District not liable for drug sting arrests

Riverside County (California) schools aren’t responsible for a drug sting that targeted special ed students, a Superior Court judge has ruled. Judge Raquel A. Marquez dismissed a 2013 suit brought by Jesse Snodgrass, reports Jane Meredith Adams in EdSource.

After his expulsion was reversed, Jesse Snodgrass was graduated from Chaparral High.

After his expulsion was reversed, Jesse Snodgrass completed high school.

Snodgrass was a 17-year-old with autism and bipolar disorder when he was befriended and manipulated by an undercover sheriff’s deputy, the suit alleged. “Dan” sent 60 text messages asking him to buy marijuana.

He was arrested on felony drug charges and expelled. Later, citing extenuating circumstances, a judge gave Snodgrass six months of probation. An administrative law judge overturned the expulsion, saying that Snodgrass “has overwhelmingly demonstrated that his actions were a manifestation of his disability.”

A 2014 Rolling Stone story, The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass, and a Vice Media video, The War on Kids, “launched a barrage of negative publicity” that persuaded local school districts to stop authorizing drug stings, writes Adams.

Disabled son was pushed out of district school

Beth Hawkins’ autistic son was pushed out of his district school in Minneapolis — and embraced by a charter, she writes on Real Clear Education.

According to Hillary Clinton, “Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” District schools “do, thankfully, take everybody,” the candidate said at a forum.

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Any school — district or charter — can “push out” a problem student, writes Hawkins, an education writer.

When a student’s needs are too hard to meet, a school may “discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message,” or send the student to an alternative school. Some segregate problem students in special ed programs or “flat-out tell students, ‘This might not be the school for you’.”

The district school thought her son’s problems stemmed from his “bad attitude.” She thought his “good” school was bad for him.

Her 13-year-old son now attends Venture Academy, a blended-learning charter. “Students create their own learning plans, choosing what they find interesting from a menu of online and bricks-and-mortar options,” writes Hawkins.

A few days into the school year, the charter’s social worker called to say her son “had done something tough with aplomb.” His teachers “wanted my input on how to reinforce the victory going forward.”

“It was the first time the call was about playing to his strengths,” Hawkins writes. “It was the first time I was called on as the expert on my own child.”

Autistic girl joins Sesame Street

A muppet with autism is joining the Sesame Street family, though she’s not scheduled to appear on TV yet.

Unlike most children diagnoses with autism spectrum disorders, Julia is a girl, notes the LA Times. One in 42 boys have autism, compared to 1 in 189 girls — meaning about five times more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism.

“We’re trying to eliminate misconceptions, and a lot of people think that only boys have autism,” said Sherrie Westin, Sesame’s executive vice president, global impact and philanthropy.

Julia stars in a “digital storybook,” We’re Amazing, 1,2,3. She’s is introduced as a long-time friend of Elmo.

In one scene, as she swings with Elmo, Elmo introduces her to his friend Abby. But Julia keeps swinging and doesn’t look in Abby’s direction, prompting Abby to say, “your friend doesn’t like me.”

But that’s not true, Elmo responds. “It’s just hard for her to talk when she’s swinging,” he explains.

Julia flaps her hands when she’s excited, takes a long time to answer questions, is alarmed by loud noises and knows all the words to songs.

Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children includes videos about autism; cards that use Sesame characters to teach basic skills to children with autism (such as “Elmo goes potty”) and overviews on “being a friend,” “brothers and sisters,” “see the amazing,” and “what to say to a parent of a child with autism.”

Carnival of Homeschooling

The new Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Notes From a Homeschooled Mom.

Happy Elf Mom writes about homeschooling an autistic child.

Rise in autism tied to ‘diagnostic substitution’

As autism diagnoses rose, intellectual disability diagnoses fell, reports a Penn State study on  “diagnostic substitution.” Many of the “new” autism cases reflect changes in how children are labeled rather than a rise in kids with learning or communications problems, researchers concluded.

Autism prevalence rates rose from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 children in 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control report, reports Ed Week‘s Christina Samuels.autism_intellectual_disability_rates.jpg

The fastest-growing group of children with autism spectrum disorder are those with normal to above-average intelligence, said the CDC’s Jon Baio. It’s not likely these children would have been identified as having an intellectual disability, he said. “What has changed to put children today at an increased risk of having autism? We really don’t know.”

The CDC’s figures, which aren’t based on examination of children, may be unreliable, says David Mandell, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

After special ed, what comes next?

When special-education students leave high school, what comes next? Education Week looks at the transition from special education to college, job training and the workforce.

Sixty-two percent of special-ed students earn a high school degree in four years, compared to 81 percent of all students. But some graduates haven’t met the same standards as mainstream students.

. . . a federal study that tracked youths with disabilities eight years after they left school found that 60 percent had enrolled in college, not much lower than the 67 percent reported for youths without disabilities. But students with disabilities were more likely to be enrolled in a community college or vocational school, as opposed to a four-year-college, than their typically developing peers.

Young people with disabilities are almost as likely to be working eight years later, but earn less than youths who hadn’t been in special education. A new federal law is trying to help special-ed students find better jobs.

Gloria Clark is a graduating senior at Decatur High School in Decatur GA.  Photo:  Michael A. Schwarz, Education Week

Gloria Clark, a graduating senior at Decatur High School in Decatur GA struggles with dyslexia, but is headed for college. Photo: Michael A. Schwarz, Education Week

Students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are the most likely to enroll in college. Most don’t identify themselves as disabled in college and receive no special supports.

A recent study found no difference in success rates for students who received help for learning disabilities and those who did not.

What helped was using the supports available to all students, such as tutoring, a math lab or a writing center. Seventy-four percent of students with learning disabilities who used these supports completed a degree compared with 35 percent of similar students who did not.

American Educator looks at teaching students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Virginia lets cops arrest ‘disorderly’ kids

Kayleb Moon-Robinson was 11 years old last fall when he was charged with disorderly conduct for kicking a trash can at his Virginia middle school. A few weeks later, the autistic sixth-grader tried to leave class with fellow students instead of waiting, as ordered. The same police officer grabbed the boy, who struggled to get away.

Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Kayleb was handcuffed and taken to juvenile court, where he was charged with a second disorderly conduct misdemeanor and felony assault on a police officer.

Virginia students are arrested in school at three times the national average, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The report ranks all the states on law-enforcement referrals. 

Many of those arrested are middle-school students 11 to 14 charged with disorderly conduct.

. . .  a 12-year-old girl was charged earlier this year with four misdemeanors — including obstruction of justice — or “clenching her fist” at a school cop who intervened in a school fight.

In Green County, Virginia, last October, a school cop handcuffed a 4-year-old who was throwing blocks and kicking at teachers and drove him to a sheriff’s department.

Stacey Doss, Kayleb’s mother and the daughter of a police officer herself,  said her son “doesn’t fully understand how to differentiate the roles of certain people.”

She refused a plea deal reducing the felony to a misdemeanor because it required the 11-year-old to serve time in a detention center. Kayleb was found guilty of all charges this month. He’ll return to court in June for sentencing.

Doss said the judge had a deputy show him a cell, and told him if he gets into trouble again he could go straight to youth detention.

“He said that Kayleb had been handled with kid gloves. And that he understood that Kayleb had special needs, but that he needed to ‘man up,’ that he needed to behave better,” Doss said. “And that he needed to start controlling himself or that eventually they would start controlling him.”

Kayleb now attends an alternative school that’s sensitive to the autistic boy’s difficulty with sudden changes in routine, Doss said.

Parents choose special-ed charters

Charters designed for students with disabilities are renewing the “inclusion debate,” reports Arianna Prothero in Ed Week.

A student adds a Ninja Turtle head to his chart as a reward for completing a class activity at Arizona Autism Charter School. —Patrick Breen for Education Week
A student adds a Ninja Turtle head to his chart as a reward for completing a class activity at Arizona Autism Charter School.
—Patrick Breen for Education Week

Diana Diaz-Harrison opened a charter school in Phoenix for her son, who has autism, and similar students. The Arizona Autism Charter School, which enrolls 90 students, “is among dozens of charters nationwide that focus on serving students with disabilities,” writes Prothero.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires that students with disabilities be taught in the “least restrictive environment.” That usually means mainstreaming students.

Some parents prefer a specialized school designed for their children’s needs.

About 100 charters are designed for special-ed students, according to the  Center for Education Reform. While some are disability-specific, others “serve children with a range of disabilities as well as their typically developing peers.”

Several years ago, I visited charters designed for disabled and mainstream students in Michigan and California as a freelance writer on Unique Schools for Unique Students, a Center on Reinventing Public Education book on charters for special-needs students.

Not everyone thinks mainstreaming is the best strategy.

“A majority of kids with disabilities are performing very poorly—very, very poorly—where they receive all or most of their instruction in the mainstream classroom,” said Doug Fuchs, a special education professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “Inclusion must account for whether or not students are profiting educationally from the mainstream setting.”

Many students at Arizona Autism Charter School were doing poorly in mainstream classrooms, says Diaz-Harrison.

Special-ed co-teachers may function as “very expensive finger pointers,” writes Peter DeWitt, who’s taught inclusion classes, in Ed Week. The Goldilocks quandary remains: “How do we find a balance between having higher expectations without making those expectations so high that we continue to make a marginalized population of students feel even more marginalized?”

Anti-vaxxers attack student documentary

Our society is “under-vaccinated,” argues Invisible Threat, a film made by broadcasting students at Carlsbad High near San Diego. It was completed more than a year ago, but anti-vaccine activists raised such a furor that few have seen the film, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

The high school’s PTA canceled an on-campus screening in May, fearing a protest.

Some of the students initially believed vaccines and autism were linked, they told the LA Times. As they researched the issue, they changed their minds.  “It was all social controversy. There was no science controversy,” said Allison DeGour, who will be a senior this fall.

Here’s a free trailer:

California’s whooping cough epidemic is escalating.

Affluent parents are the most likely to put their children — and others — at risk by avoiding vaccination. Latinos have high vaccination rates and less whooping cough, apparently because they tend to trust doctors’ advice.

No longer autistic

Mark Macluskie, 16, who is no longer autistic. Credit: Mark Peckmezian for The New York Times

About 10 percent of autistic kids grow out of it, researchers now believe. Intensive behavioral therapy seems to help, but it’s not clear why some children “beat” autism and most do not, writes Ruth Padawer in the New York Times Magazine.

Mark Macluskie was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 3.

He showed no apparent interest in those around him and seemed to understand few words. He threw stunning tantrums. And even when he didn’t seem angry, he would run headlong into walls and fall over, then get up and do it again, like a robot programmed to repeat the same pattern eternally, seemingly impervious to pain despite the bruises spreading across his forehead.

His mother, Cynthia, researched therapies so she could teach Mark at home. By the time he was 8, he’d caught up in speech and behavior, but not in social skills.

Cynthia . . . watched DVR recordings of “Leave It to Beaver” with Mark, stopping every few minutes to ask him to predict what might happen next, or what he thought Beaver was thinking, or why June reacted the way she did. When they had watched every episode, they moved on to “Little House on the Prairie” so Mark could practice reading facial expressions.

. . . At parks and restaurants, they watched the faces of passers-by and played social detective, with Cynthia asking Mark to find clues to people’s relationships or emotions. “He didn’t seem to learn that stuff through osmosis like other kids do, so I’d have to walk him through it each time till he got it.”

When he fell in love with robots, Cynthia invited four typically developing children to come over two afternoons a weeks for “robot club.” The five kids began writing code and entering contests.

At 11, Mark no longer met the criteria for autism. Three years later, he competed in a world robotics competition. “He was partnered randomly with teenagers from Singapore and had to strategize with them on the fly,” writes Padwaer. “They won several rounds.”

Now 16, Mark is a “typical geeky teenager,” albeit one who co-hosts a weekly Internet radio show,  “Tech Team,” with 32,000 listeners.

On a parenting blog, a father writes about the kids who don’t beat autism. They are the majority.