Other

UPDATE:
I received a call from my school board member, Steph Horne, explaining that the board does not set policy regarding these types of activities, and that principals are informed and the gatekeeper for what happens on their campuses. Although this event has been taking place for years, she said that I brought up a good point that principals or other staff may interpret the governor’s recent “overstep” as superseding the existing policy and state law, and agreed that it would be a good idea if building staff were reminded of the existing policy so that they are empowered to enforce that policy, should the need arise. Policy states that the event is to take place during non-school hours and that it was to be student led. Nowhere in the communications I saw did it state that this was policy, and if it had, it would not have evoked the response it did from many of our members in our private group of 1,500 parents, teachers and community members.

Ms. Horne sent an email to Dr. Hargens asking that a reminder be sent to building staff. I consider that to be an appropriate and timely response, as requested in my original letter. Thank you Ms. Horne!


(This message has been revised based on feedback from community.)

In response to this message from our Governor, and concerns raised by Dear JCPS members in our private group (made up of over 1500 parents, teachers and community members), I sent the following message to our board members:

Bevin Proclaims Day of Prayer Over Students

Dear JCPS,

I am confident that our board is aware that any adult-led prayer activity should be prohibited from taking place on any JCPS campus during school hours. In case the activity centered around a single religion isn’t non-inclusive enough, attached is a snapshot from the organization’s brochure, which further exacerbates misconceptions about other faiths, behaviors and lifestyles:

prayer

Prior to the Sept. 27 board meeting, Dear JCPS would like to know what steps the district intends to take to publicly and proactively disavow such an egregious overstep of the Governor’s authority. We are looking forward to your reply.

Thank you,
Gay

Gay Adelmann
Co-Founder, Dear JCPS
Founder, Save Our Schools KY
Charter Member, Network for Public Education
260-633-0463

Reprinted with permission from student. This letter is part of the @PrichardCom Student Voice Team Series.

I live in parallel universes – the universe of special education and the universe of not-so-special education. I have a foot in each. Every day I am split in two.

In one universe, I am expected to conform to the mostly unspoken expectations and assumptions about students with special needs: that we are different from other human beings (and a little less human), that getting a minimal educational experience is good enough for us, that being taken to a pep rally means we have been “included” and that “dis”-abilities that can be seen are more real than those that cannot.

In the other universe, I must conform to the rules of what is a strange society to me – the culture of “regular” education – where children are segregated from adults, grouped into categories and assumed to be incompetent. In the world of regular education, if I need to get up and move around, I have to ask permission. If I need extra time to finish a test, I miss out on what the “regular” class is doing. If the teacher asks the students to choose a group to work on a project, I am rarely chosen.

In both universes, people don’t always say what they mean, but I am still expected to understand what they have said. Speaking the truth is okay, as long as it’s not too true. If I don’t look someone in the eye or shake their hand, I am seen as being rude and if I accidentally bump into someone, I had better apologize.

My voice is mostly drowned out by the voices of people who do not really see me, who do not really know me and who do not usually seek to hear my thoughts, ideas or dreams. I often feel like a stranger in a strange land.

I am not alone.

According to the 2015 Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, 5.8 million school age students in the public school system today – 8.5 percent of all students – have individual education plans like I do. According to the U.S. Department of Education, another 4.4 million students have 504 plans, which theoretically are designed to give them access to the same education as everyone else.

In Kentucky, our state report card shows 87,000 students, or 13.3 percent, are mired in the special education system.

Out of all these students, the overwhelming majority, almost 70 percent, have disabilities that are not obvious to the naked eye, like autism, emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, or “other health impairments,” including ADHD.

For each of these students and their families, life is a constant battle to be understood.

Just about every day at school I witness an exchange between a teacher and an autistic student where I know I can help, where I could serve as a translator of sorts. But I am told that I may not, that I must keep my opinions to myself, that I am not qualified.

Who better to understand the language of a student with autism than another student with autism? I speak both languages. It took me years to learn to speak, to read text and even to read faces. Because of all the therapies I had early in my life and my other label, “gifted,” I communicate pretty well – most of the time.

The teachers mean well, but they often don’t seem to understand how to interact with students who have less obvious disabilities. And not all teachers or staff are trained. When it doesn’t go well, the student gets blamed.

Dr. Harold Kleinert of the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky is piloting a program to train peers to support students with disabilities so they can spend more of their time in “regular” classrooms. His project, based on the research of Dr. Erik Carter of Vanderbilt University, shows that peer training is good for everybody – including the students without disabilities.

In Kentucky, there is no specific certification required to teach students with autism or who are “twice exceptional.” Even with training and certification for learning disorders, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of understanding that students with ADHD or learning disorders are not merely lazy and won’t necessarily grow out of their “disorders.” Autistic people do have feelings, and of course, we want friends. When someone cannot be understood, it doesn’t mean they do not have something to say. It might just mean that we don’t speak the same language.

I am told that the most important thing I can do to ensure my future is to advocate for myself. That is why I want to be heard – on behalf of all of the people I know who cannot.

Written by a sophomore at a JCPS High School. This column was written with support from his sister, a freshman.

This letter was published in the Courier-Journal as part of the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team op-ed series.

This anonymous* letter was submitted from a parent via our open letter form.

Board Member: David Jones, @DavidJonesJCPS

Dear JCPS,

I found out this morning that my son’s bus has been dropping him and his schoolmates off early and then driving off without waiting for them to get into the school. It is a well known policy that students don’t come in until 8:40am. There is no adult supervision until then. This driver has repeatedly left students in a dangerous situation. The school is angry, the parents are angry, the children are scared and JCPS is simply “looking in to it.” Leaving students unattended is just unconscionable.

Signed,

Angry Parent

* As with all anonymous contributions, the identity is known by Dear JCPS administrators, but not shared publicly. Should a board member wish to be put in touch with the person submitting the anonymous letter, arrangements can be made by contacting your Dear JCPS liaison. Thank you.

Chair Jones has stated that he wants “active, critical support” from the public. For the past few years, several of us in Dear JCPS have been trying to provide just that. On numerous topics, we have attended stakeholder meetings, had one-on-one conversations, sent emails to board members and administration, but have been unsuccessful in seeing our concerns and feedback make it into the final presentation. Similar to the “telephone game,” by the time this feedback makes it up the chain of the administration and it culminates with a presentation and subsequent board decision, it’s hardly recognizable. Outcomes surrounding assignment of students from Myers Middle School and defunding Challenger Learning Center could have been improved significantly if there had been a better method for us to provide critical input than the current system.
At various board meetings and public gatherings, several of us started to compare notes, and we realized that we were not alone in these experiences. We were especially disturbed when we heard from teachers who were afraid of (or had already experienced) retribution for providing constructive feedback to the administration. That is why we decided to start Dear JCPS.
By conducting this anonymous letter writing campaign, our intent is to collect stakeholder input on numerous topics that we feel that the board is not fully aware of, and provide it directly to the board – with no middle man. We also plan continue to seek accountability on those items of greatest concern going forward. Until a better public input mechanism can be created, we intend to create a public log of these concerns, so that they can no longer be lost in the bureaucracy.
We are all on the same team. We want to improve public education. Chair Jones says he wants our input, but we are not sure if he is aware that the current feedback system is broken. We are just trying to rebuild that bridge so that critical information can be factored into the decision-making process. Despite how some administrators have tried to position Dear JCPS as adversarial, including blocking access to our website internally (strange action for an organization that says it wants stakeholder input), our organization’s goal is simply to be the “critical friend” the district so badly needs. We hope they will accept our letters and other feedback as a way to answer Chair Jones’ call. We’re here to help.

Teachers, staff, parents, students and community members! Submit a letter about your greatest concerns, suggestions, constructive feedback to moderator@dearjcps.com and we will compile them anonymously and present them to the board during their meeting on Dec. 14. Letters are due this Thursday, Dec. 10.

TypewriterDJ

“They never listen. Why should I submit a letter to Dear JCPS?”

1) This time it’s different. The district has never seen a movement like this before.
2) It’s now or never. With the election of our new governor, charter schools are breathing down our necks.
3) David Jones has asked for our “active, critical support“. We’re helping facilitate this since there is currently no good mechanism for the upstream flow of communication.
4) These letters are going directly to the board members, so they will not be managed, diluted, disputed, translated, or lost in the maze of bureaucracy.
5) We are documenting and categorizing your concerns and suggestions and will be holding them accountable at future meetings. Make sure your voices are heard.
6) These are our schools. We need to take them back.
7) We have to try. Our kids deserve for us to try.
8) It’s up to us to bring constructive feedback and suggestions and make sure we are heard. It’s time to put up or shut up!

SolutionDJ