Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Virtual Learning Violates the Civil Rights of Special Education Students

 

Late last night, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Board of Directors voted 7-2 in favor of a three-phase reopening plan that will begin the 2020-2021 school year with 100 percent virtual learning. I woke up to this news and, while I am no longer an MPS family (more on that in a bit), I am a resident and taxpaying citizen, and I have thoughts.

A Choice Based on Fear, Not Logic

The decision to keep schools closed, which they have been since March, is not based on science or reason. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been zero deaths among children ages 0-19. Zero. Only 2% of deaths occurred in persons aged 20-39. A majority of deaths were in groups aged 70+. As for transmission of COVID-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics (which also said children should be physically present in schools this fall) notes that children are not the primary spreaders of the disease.

Yet MPS has decided it knows better than those statistics, and better than even the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will not have children present in the classroom when school begins. They even know better than UNICEF, apparently, which argues that the indirect effects of an outbreak are often worse than the outbreak itself.

Their metric for reopening schools? Zero new cases in the Milwaukee metro area…for two consecutive weeks. Never mind that deaths are declining and that only 10% of cases require hospitalization (so as of yesterday’s 900 confirmed cases, nine would need hospitalization). Like other places, the spike in cases came not after reopening businesses but after the protests and riots related to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Here are some other facts about MPS:

MPS spent $14,897 per student in 2016-2017, the highest in the state.

Approximately 1/3 of the taxes residents in Milwaukee pay go to the district.

More than 50% of residents in Milwaukee live at or below the poverty level.

In December, the board approved an $87 million referendum to “expand and sustain educational programs.” That referendum was on the Apr 7 ballot and passed. (After MPS had been shut down and was not providing any education services.)

MPS has 75,081 students enrolled and of those, 20% — one in five — is a special education student. That is 15,016 students who require some form of special education. Each of those 15,016 students is protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that outlines what states need to do to meet the needs of students. IDEA allows states some latitude, but prohibits them from offering fewer services than the federal law. Under IDEA, states must:

  1. Offer free, appropriate public education and the least restrictive environment to students with special education needs.
  2. Students are required to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and gives schools 60 days to complete an evaluation. The details for IEPs — including the evaluation, the required annual re-evaluation meeting, and the services the IEP outlines — are numerous.
  3. IDEA lays out guidelines for early intervention of kids with developmental delays.
  4. IDEA provides for special education services up to the age of 21, if required.
  5. IDEA provides guidelines for after-high school transitioning, which must begin at the age of 16.

I taught special education for almost two years. While it wasn’t the career for me, I can tell you that my experience is enough to know not one of those 15,016 special education students in MPS will receive the education they are entitled to via virtual learning. Many have behavioral issues, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, that require not only predictable schedules but consistency in learning and the classroom environment, as well as specialized tools to communicate or facilitate learning (think special chairs or sensory-limiting items like headphones).

I emphasized “least restrictive environment” above because, in a district with a 50%+ poverty rate, the home environment is, in fact, restrictive. They do not have access to the tools or professionals who can educate them properly. The coordination required to obtain this equipment for parents is extensive, and requires actual buy-in from the parents. I can tell you from personal experience also, you’ll have a difficult time with that. During the first month of my teaching career, I had a parent threaten to “beat my ass” when I called to discuss ways we could improve her child’s learning because I was “harming her baby.” That is not the exception to the rule, alas.

MPS is a district that has massive amounts of poverty. These are homes that will not have access to reliable Internet, nor the technology needed to facilitate online learning, nor the adults willing to put in the time to essentially homeschool their children. Parents will have to choose between a paycheck and either homeschooling their children, or spending money to put their children in daycare facilities (and if they can go to daycare, why can’t they go to school?) that are ill-equipped to assist non-special education students with virtual learning.

IDEA was put into place to undo the days when children with special education were not integrated into public schools; they were either sent to special institutions or, in some cases, not educated at all. The quality and availability of this education varied greatly until federal legislation created more uniform policies. At the end of the day, IDEA is clear: students with special education needs are entitled to the same quality of education and access to education as their regular education peers. Virtual learning is denying them that education.

With this decision, MPS has absolutely violated the civil rights of 15,000 students and countless districts around the country are following suit. Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have urged the opening of public schools, backed by clear science and common sense, and if they want to play hardball with the districts who refuse to reopen schools, they can use the violation of IDEA as a starting point for leveraging districts into reopening. They owe it to this generation of children not to let them fall through the cracks during a time of irrational panic and hysteria.

Published in Education
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  1. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    They will also blame the President for their own bad decisions.

    • #1
    • July 17, 2020, at 6:11 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. EODmom Coolidge

    The only difference I have with your comment is that I don’t think policy makers are making this decision based in fear. I submit it is wholly about influencing the election and relying on the fear they’ve promoted to carry it. They know their decisions are wrong and don’t care. The teachers don’t want to go back and the schools want to manage the population. It’s criminal. 

    • #2
    • July 17, 2020, at 6:15 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    I would wager that a parent from Brookfield, Wauwatosa or Whitefish Bay would sue. I don’t think most MPS parents would have the wherewithal to do so. 

    Even the past few months without the structure in their lives will have set kids back a tremendous amount.

    • #3
    • July 17, 2020, at 6:36 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    I am getting the feeling that the system doesn’t always have the best interest of the students in mind. 

    • #4
    • July 17, 2020, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  5. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    This is Wisconsin. Our entire state is controlled by Teachers’ Unions. It’s why Democrats’ stole the last election. Scott Walker had to lose, because he reduced their power.

    • #5
    • July 17, 2020, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 16 likes
  6. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    I am getting the feeling that the system doesn’t always have the best interest of the students in mind.

    • #6
    • July 17, 2020, at 7:00 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Hoyacon Member

    This may have already occurred to you, but I would recommend making contact with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

    • #7
    • July 17, 2020, at 8:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Nohaaj Coolidge

    Amy Curtis: Never mind that deaths are declining and that only 10% of cases require hospitalization (so as of yesterday’s 900 confirmed cases, 9 people would need hospitalization)

    I agree with your analysis, I just want to correct your decimal place error. 90 people would eventually be expected to be hospitalized. 

    • #8
    • July 17, 2020, at 9:06 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    I think that it is a bad thing that schools are not reopening.

    I am quite shocked to read that 20% of students require “special education.” What in the world is going on? Has there been a massive increase in problems and dysfunctions, or has the definition of “special education” been seriously watered down?

    I think that it is quite wrong to conceptualize this as a “civil rights” problem. It strikes me as a serious category error. We’re talking about a claim for special services from government. It may be a good idea to provide such benefits, but conceptualizing it as a “civil rights” violation to not provide such benefits is very careless thinking, in my estimation.

    “Civil rights” seems to be misused quite often, because if you can pigeonhole your desired polity into this category, you can demonize anyone who disagrees as being opposed to “civil rights,” which makes them sound like a Grand Wizard of the KKK.

    I realize, Amy, that you may simply be using the categories set forth in the law.

    • #9
    • July 17, 2020, at 9:50 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Hoyacon Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    I think that it is a bad thing that schools are not reopening.

    I am quite shocked to read that 20% of students require “special education.” What in the world is going on? Has there been a massive increase in problems and dysfunctions, or has the definition of “special education” been seriously watered down?

    I think that it is quite wrong to conceptualize this as a “civil rights” problem. It strikes me as a serious category error. We’re talking about a claim for special services from government. It may be a good idea to provide such benefits, but conceptualizing it as a “civil rights” violation to not provide such benefits is very careless thinking, in my estimation.

    “Civil rights” seems to be misused quite often, because if you can pigeonhole your desired polity into this category, you can demonize anyone who disagrees as being opposed to “civil rights,” which makes them sound like a Grand Wizard of the KKK.

    I realize, Amy, that you may simply be using the categories set forth in the law.

    Federal law imposes certain requirements on the states that are set out in the O/P. Failure to conform to those requirements amounts to a violation of “rights” conferred on special education students. It’s true that this may be an expansive version of what normally is considered a “civil rights” issue, but I’d contend it’s a distinction without a difference. Rights are being conferred and they are arguably being violated.

    • #10
    • July 17, 2020, at 9:57 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Bishop Wash Member

    Amy Curtis: The decision to keep schools closed, which they have been since March, is not based on science or reason. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been zero deaths among children ages 0-19. Zero. Only 2% of deaths occurred in persons aged 20-39.

    Yesterday my wife told me a horrible headline about a woman losing her two children to COVID. I thought how horrible as hardly any children have died because of the disease and she lost two. Then my wife started reading the article and the children were 21 and 23, with obesity and other factors. The news organization was so misleading. They are the mother’s children but that are not what one expects when he hears the word children.

    • #11
    • July 17, 2020, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Barfly Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I am quite shocked to read that 20% of students require “special education.” What in the world is going on? Has there been a massive increase in problems and dysfunctions, or has the definition of “special education” been seriously watered down?

    I’m surprised it’s that low. Between the proliferating imaginary DSM classifications and the practice of drugging normal kids, I’d have expected the need for Special education to be greater. Maybe it’s just that today’s mainstream classrooms are aimed at yesterday’s remedial levels?

    • #12
    • July 17, 2020, at 12:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. tigerlily Member

    How much longer will taxpayers have to continue paying the salaries of public school teachers who refuse to do their job in the face of the facts that the children are at close to zero risk for covid-19?

    • #13
    • July 17, 2020, at 9:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    Special Education services cover a very wide range of disabilities. I spent 45 years teaching students who were classified as Behaviorally/Emotionally Disabled. About 90% of what I did involved behavior modification which required data keeping and direct observation. There is no way that students with this classification can have the goals and objectives on their Individual Educational Program (IEP) met as required by law. The same can be said for students with Learning and Language Disabilities, and most certainly orthopedically handicapped, blind, and hearing impaired students as well. All have manditory IEPs which are specific to their particular needs. These include long term goals and short term objectives meant to achieve those goals. 

    My classroom was level 4 self-contained. This meant that the ten students assigned to me spent the major portion of their school day in that classroom. When possible they could be put into what were called “contact classes” in the general ed program. There their behavior could be monitored by a special education aide who might accompany them to that class.

    I have really been wondering how this is being handled in the current situation. My guess is, it isn’t. Nor are the other special needs kids getting their needs met. Hell, the vast majority of general ed kids are likely not getting anything approaching a reasonable facsimile of an education. In the meantime, special education departments are receiving a per student pay out from the federal government many times greater than the alotment for general ed students.

    Special Education has long been a money pit. Principals want as many sped classes in their building as they can get because they bring in lots of dollars which are often added to the school’s budget. I seriously doubt that the spigot has been turned off during the last few months when the schools closed down. This is a scandal of mythic proportions.

    • #14
    • July 18, 2020, at 1:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    DrewInWisconsin, Unhelpful Com… (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    I am getting the feeling that the system doesn’t always have the best interest of the students in mind.

    That, in a word, is despicable. I say that as a former teacher and forced member of the NEA (Seattle included Agency Shop in the contract).

    • #15
    • July 18, 2020, at 2:03 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    I think that it is a bad thing that schools are not reopening.

    I am quite shocked to read that 20% of students require “special education.” What in the world is going on? Has there been a massive increase in problems and dysfunctions, or has the definition of “special education” been seriously watered down?

    I think that it is quite wrong to conceptualize this as a “civil rights” problem. It strikes me as a serious category error. We’re talking about a claim for special services from government. It may be a good idea to provide such benefits, but conceptualizing it as a “civil rights” violation to not provide such benefits is very careless thinking, in my estimation.

    “Civil rights” seems to be misused quite often, because if you can pigeonhole your desired polity into this category, you can demonize anyone who disagrees as being opposed to “civil rights,” which makes them sound like a Grand Wizard of the KKK.

    I realize, Amy, that you may simply be using the categories set forth in the law.

    Federal law imposes certain requirements on the states that are set out in the O/P. Failure to conform to those requirements amounts to a violation of “rights” conferred on special education students. It’s true that this may be an expansive version of what normally is considered a “civil rights” issue, but I’d contend it’s a distinction without a difference. Rights are being conferred and they are arguably being violated.

    Sue the child-hating educrats and their Democrat official allies.

    • #16
    • July 19, 2020, at 7:41 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    How much longer will taxpayers have to continue paying the salaries of public school teachers who refuse to do their job in the face of the facts that the children are at close to zero risk for covid-19?

    Until the taxpayers vote 100% and get all the poor parents/grandparents to throw the state and local pols and school officials out.

    • #17
    • July 19, 2020, at 7:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Until the taxpayers vote 100% and get all the poor parents/grandparents to throw the state and local pols and school officials out.

    You’d never get enough people on board. Education is so huge that everyone has close relatives working in that system, and are therefore sympathetic to the machine.

    I’m always shocked to discover strong enthusiasm for public education among people who I thought would be a bit more “on our side.”

    • #18
    • July 20, 2020, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • Like