Thanks to Carla Branch’s tenacious reporting, the matter of the removal of the Sheltercare teacher reached the attention of the community. This situation is so important on so many levels to everyone in the City because it goes to the administration and operation of the City school system. Here are just a few of the reasons that the actions of ACPS were more than disturbing:
- The abrupt removal of a special education teacher without conferring with Sheltercare staff puts children in danger to themselves and others. ACPS did not bother to find out the reasons why each child was placed at Sheltercare. The reasons for placement could have to do with severe mental health problems, victimization due to child abuse or from another crime, chronic runaway behavior, prostitution, or chronic truancy. Did ACPS ever stop to think that placing the child back into the home or alternative school could cause disruptions and assaults to the staff and other children, or did they think that the child could be in danger of seeing another student who has already victimized him/her? At a time when school safety is a huge issue, ACPS administrators made decisions in this situation that demonstrate a lack of judgment and a blatant disregard for the other professionals who know more than they do about the background of the students. It makes one wonder how many more decisions like this are made by ACPS administrators that would shock us if we knew about it?
- The ACPS administrative staff are accustomed to doing whatever they feel like when the mood strikes them as they have been trained by the prior ACPS School Board. In that vein, the administrators ignored their own budgeted line item for the teacher which was approved by the prior School Board and placed the teacher in the state funded detention home school program. The current School Board must have shocked the ACPS administers when they asked questions and performed actual investigations into the whole matter. The current School Board displayed understandable outrage at actions that were contrary to school policy and procedures and then gathered enough information from various sources in order to render the right decision to reinstate the Sheltercare teacher. Again, it forces one to wonder how many arbitrary moves of budgetary line item programs are moved around without approval during the school year?
- Collaboration does not mean showing up at meetings with plans. In my book, collaboration means working together as a multi-disciplined group in order to come up with a plan. On January 10th, when ACPS staff were directed by the School Board to work out a plan for the students, they showed up at a meeting and presented their plan and let the others know that they had no say in the matter. Ignoring the assaultive and disruptive behaviors, suspensions, truancies, expulsions and drug issues that occurred since the teacher removal and the students were prematurely placed at their home and alternative schools, the ACPS administrators wanted to continue their poorly thought out process. How many decisions are made despite the overwhelming data that the plan for these students was not yielding good outcomes for the students?
- When the removal of the Sheltercare teacher was brought to the Juvenile Detention Commission (that oversees the Sheltercare program for the City), Dorathea Peters and I, both of us Juvenile Detention Commissioners, composed a letter to the School Board asking for ACPS administration to produce evidence that they inputted school grades and attendance data for all students in the Sheltercare program. To this day, we have no evidence that the data was inputted in a timely basis. We do know that ACPS staff asked the Sheltercare staff for much of this data information about a month ago. What should concern all of us is how accurate is ACPS data and is it inputted in the system in a timely manner?
- Lastly, the ACPS administrative staff claimed that the teacher was removed from the Sheltercare school program because he was not certified in the four core area subjects and that students in that program were missing out of core subject instruction and the wrap-around services offered in the schools. This is a perfect example of staff making decisions without doing their homework – no pun intended! Sheltercare is a short term residential placement and is exempt from the teacher core certification requirements but must provide a special education teacher for any student who is a special education student and coordinate with subject certified teachers or by other means on the core subject areas. The teacher assigned to the program is a certified special education teacher who works closely with the core subject teachers at the student’s home school and provides individualized instruction in each of the four core subjects. This keeps the students current with their school work while they are at the Sheltercare program and prepares them to be returned back to their classes. As far as wrap-around services goes, students at the Sheltercare program are there for the purpose of stabilization and treatment. They are provided with a combination of services including: probation officers, social workers, Sheltercare counselors, mental health clinicians, home-based service providers, mentors, etc that are already working with the youth and his/her family. Whatever the school wants to add for a student and his/her family should be done in a coordinated and consistent fashion and so as not to be duplicative. No one agency or department should be making such important decisions in the life of these youth in isolation
Unfortunately, this story is not over yet. We still have to retain the budget item for the teacher for FY2014 and devise a better plan for these students who are the most vulnerable. We are grateful to the school board members for their concern and for giving this matter the attention it deserved. Karen Graf has already displayed excellent leadership skills by how well she has handled this matter.
City of Alexandria Representative
Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Commission