Madison police tackle and jail high schooler with autism

“This is an injustice that needs to be fixed and people need to be held accountable for their actions.” — East High parent.

By Sue Pastor — The January 25 meeting of the Madison School Board included East High parent testimony regarding the treatment of their daughter, who has autism, by an assistant principal, the educational resource officer and additional police. (3:06-8:05 in the video below) Both parents stated they were relating the incident in hope that this would not happen to other students. They will seek justice by filing for an appeal of the suspension, going to court to get the citations dismissed and filing a complaint to address the violation of their daughter’s rights by East High staff.

The student’s mother:
“I want to share our daughter’s mistreatment at school, in which staff did not follow the District’s BEP or our daughter’s BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan) … Several months ago, she was struggling to get to her class due to her anxiety level. According to her BIP, she is supposed to be provided a safe place to go as well as calling a parent to de-escalate any type of situation.
“This did not happen. Instead, she was told by staff she could sit outside in the cold, go to the class she was too anxious to attend or go to the in-school suspension room. Several minutes into her wait she was approached by the security staff, and then the principal, who told her to leave the atrium. She refused to do this.
“Rather than following my daughter’s BIP by giving her space to process and call me directly, the principal called the ERO (Educational Resource Officer, i.e., police officer assigned to the school), who then called police.
“They were called because she refused to wait outside in the cold. Thankfully, she called me, so I could help her process. Unfortunately, I had to listen over the phone as my daughter was tackled to the ground as she screamed for help, was then handcuffed, then removed from school. She was arrested and taken to jail.
“As a mother, I thought that listening to what happened over the phone was the worst thing I had to go through. But the video was worse. It showed my daughter sitting, doing no harm to anyone, while others walked freely around the space, but ended tragically with my daughter being attacked by three adults. She received a three-day suspension, over $600 in fines and was taken to jail in response to a Level One incident: refusing to cooperate with directions, according to the District’s behavior plan. ...”
“Sadly, the trauma she experienced will take years to go away, if ever. All because she was provided no safe place to sit within the school and refused to sit outside in the cold. You guys must do better for our children.”
The student’s father shared that his daughter has autism, which makes the situation that occurred even worse. He called attention to the District’s mission, read at the start of the meeting, and pointed it out that it was not serving his daughter. In setting behavioral standards for youth, the district itself has to be held to a higher standard. Amen!
In an email exchange following the board meeting, the student’s mother emphasized that she was on the phone with her daughter throughout the incident: “Not only was I on the phone, I was on speaker phone, so ALL five of the people involved could hear me trying to de-escalate the situation.”
It gets worse and worse. “More importantly, my daughter asked the Assistant Principal three different times, if they would give her some space she could calm down.  Instead they tackled her and arrested her.  That in of itself is heart wrenching.”
This is a student who has been working to make strides. Her mother said “Just two years ago, she would have had a melt down and would not have been able to verbalize that.  For someone on the spectrum, getting to the point where she's at is huge and she has worked very hard to learn to verbalize things. The fact that my daughter can verbalize that versus having a complete melt down is HUGE and they ignored her request.”
Public appearances at the meeting continued, with a District parent advocating for “getting cell phones and tablets out of school if you’re not going to supply every child in the school with a smart phone” and speaking to the ways in which the uses of these devices deepen already existing inequalities. This mother also pointed to the practice of passing students with Ds, when they do not have the basic skills they need. This happens because teachers don’t want the students back next year, but these students are not being served.

District business as usual
Announcements of honors: East Principal Michael Hernández, Centro Hispano’s Roberto Sanchez award; LaFollette and East students nominated to Air Force and Naval Academies respectively, by Rep. Mark Pocan; Board member Dean Loumis, Team Leader Award from the Apartment Association of South Central.
Superintendent’s priority (roughly 50-minute with Q and A, “Instructional Coach” update), highlighting the District’s “Collaborative for Learning and Leadership” with UW-Madison. Some buzz words from the power point and instructional coach/teacher pair testimonies: “… building out another system … strengthening systems to support teachers in doing their best work … using student data to make instructional decisions … four to six week coaching cycles … student-centered (teacher) coaching …
In contrast to the parents raising issues during public appearances, one could not help noticing that all of the teachers and coaches testifying to the benefits of this model are white.
Board members asked a great many questions of the Lowell/Toki/Memorial coach-teacher pairs. Board member TJ Mertz sought to get at the cost of this work; the superintendent said MMSD is one of the districts that has held onto instructional coaching even in hard budget times — but the role of those with this staffing allocation has shifted. It is no longer taken up with administrative work.
More details on this here:

Finally, to the consent agenda and beyond
Board members discussed the Omega school contract before voting to approve it (particularly since the contract is for the current year, some of which is now past). Omega’s good reputation and work were emphasized. Lack of meeting metrics now, Superintendent says, is due in part to changes in requirements around the GED, especially addition of the Civics test. TJ Mertz wants the full agreement to come back to the board next time.
January Instructional Work Group report: Advanced learner plan; summer school report — including new budget with a two percent reduction; and concern with under-representation of special education students. Board members raised several issues and concerns, though from the tone of staff responses at the meeting it seems unlikely these will be addressed.
Anna Moffit: choice of Thoreau as a site and no air conditioning, no guidelines for hot weather days — guidelines should be developed in the future. (Staff said no choice, basically, but Thoreau, other schools no A/C either.)
James Howard: concern with reducing the budget, doesn’t want to “shortchange this demographic.” He referred to a meeting on equity and reiterated that “systems tend to produce what they are designed to produce”. Maybe it is time for a redesign. (Staff said nothing.)
Dean Loumos: asks what is being done to increase enrollment. There is clearly an opportunity to get with students who are struggling. Mentions working on plans with individual students, for example to craft credit recovery options, for example so a student isn’t sunk by one bad year or semester. Couldn’t we get to families and students earlier, work with counselors, principals? (No significant response.)
TJ Mertz: asks where the initial invitation to summer school originates. He heard from a parent who was upset it came from someone they didn’t know.
Staff said everyone who meets the criteria is invited. Invitation does come from central offices, but building by building staff decide who is on the list. About 50 percent accept invitation. (Board members seemed skeptical that this is working.)
Staff is asked whether we still have access to students who were invited but didn’t attend, so that we could interview them, for example to find out why. No, there is no follow-up.
Loumos asks what other incentives can be offered, extra credit, gain credit back, emphasizes this is an opportunity. Could there be partnerships around enrichment? Asks about competition with other programs (UW, Boys and Girls Club). Couldn’t we make a deal with them, offer credit? This would address what all agreed is the stigma to attending summer school. Mertz says the learning has to be enhanced.
Howard asks what is the upper limit of enrollment that the district could handle in summer school? We should know this (but we don’t).
They pass the $3 million budget with the two percent reduction (somewhat of a transparency issue, as this was re-worked at the last minute and public has no opportunity to weigh in) and just passed a three-year plan for summer school.
Next meeting of this work group: February 8.
Operations Work Group — and another issue of public opportunity for input.
Long-term facilities plan; discussion has begun of the 2016-17 budget. At February 1 meeting, efficiencies, cost savings and staffing plan information will be presented. They will continue to talk about this at quarterly retreat February 6.
Mertz takes issue with the budget timeline. Decision points have been moved forward supposedly to allow for more opportunities to hire the most qualified and diverse staff. Doesn’t think that has happened and that the downside is less opportunity for input. We are supposed to have “shared decision-making power” and to involve and educate people.
Superintendent Cheatham (repeatedly asked by Mertz to speak into the mic and otherwise very difficult to hear) says “I realize it’s aggressive” of the hiring timeline. She has advisory groups, not trying to avoid getting input. “Top candidates are scooped up by other districts.” (Unclear what makes for a top candidate.)
Mary Burke says follow the superintendent’s recommendations and learn more in upcoming meetings.
Ed Hughes: Can’t delay ability to start hiring. Workbook goes to schools and essentially says “Your FTEs are going to be X instead of Y so you have to figure out how to cut.”
Moffit agrees with Mertz, important to have time. Visiting schools throughout district has seen inconsistencies. Need good discussion including about baseline expectations. Has heard of half-time instructional resource teacher only doing one intervention. Mertz asks how do we prioritize things we heard about tonight like instructional coaches. Wants to create a timeline where we can have public discussions. (Right! No one in the community knows you are making budget decisions in February.)
Loumos: figure out a way that allows us some choices, with that in mind, see where we are compared to other districts. Can we see how we compare to other districts?
Superintendent: Keep in mind we have salary, benefits to discuss. By accelerating priorities and efficiencies doesn’t mean we are done (No, we’re just foreclosing access to a fair amount of decisions.)
New issue: After some discussion, the board votes unanimously in support of Moffit’s motion to make revisions within policy 20.45 concerning acceptance or rejection of open enrollment applications. Change is an important statement on values around inclusion. Current language mirrors state statute, allows “flexibility” that legal counsel says has not been used. “Flexibility” appears to be toward denying an application.

City Education Committee Report 1/13/16 (From agenda, not live blog)
Plan for presentations and information necessary to address the following topics at future meetings:
• Policies ad plans for bus passes for low-income students
• Education Resource Officers and the MMSD/MPD contract
• Racial equity efforts
• MMSD facility user fees for after-school programs
• Letter from Education Committee to Dr. Cheatham regarding the Community Schools initiative
Possible Agenda Items for Next Committee Meeting, February 10
Additional matters on agenda: Student Senate report, Administrator Retirement plan.
Conclusion: We have a lot of work to do as a community to make sure our schools are places where our youth are respected and can learn. Board members who are asking important questions and raising important issues need community support.
Anyone reading all this way might want the Board’s email address (and all of these reportedly also go to the Superintendent):