Times-Union seeking DCPS teachers to speak about libraries

From Chris Guerrieri’s public Facebook Profile:

​DCPS teachers please share with other DCPS teachers, the Times Union is looking for teachers to talk about their classroom and school libraries. I got this note from their education reporter today:

Hey, Chris. Do you think any teachers would be willing to talk with me about the state of their school library and classroom libraries? Of course, I would protect identities. I’m just trying to accurately describe what they look like now.
Denise Smith Amos

Education Reporter

The Florida Times-Union




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Will DeVos enforce 14th Amendment rights of the vulnerable?

​The Federal government’s main role in Education is to enforce the 14th Amendment rights of vulnerable children.

For example, programs like IDEA (special needs children), Title I (for students in poverty) and Title IX (equality of boys and girls). These programs were made to help achieve that goal. This hits home because my brother is special needs, and my mom has been an ESE job coach for 20+ years. She and many of her colleagues see DeVos’s appointment as cause for concern.

Unfortunately, too many (not all) states and districts try to avoid providing required services for special needs children. Often, it’s only fear of DOE enforcement that keeps them in line.

Betsy DeVos seems completely ignorant of these programs. She was not able to speak to them at her confirmation hearing. And she seemingly has no interest in enforcing them. If your child is poor, female, or disabled (learning, physically, etc.), you can expect the Department of Education to now do little or nothing for your child.

Betsy DeVos appears to be interested in two things. First, to replace public schools with for-profit schools. And secondly, to implement School Choice, a euphemism for resegregation. Regrettably, the end-result of School Choice is that families with cars and time drive their children to richer districts while poor children lacking a ride out of the ghetto stay behind.

School Choice = Resegregation. Never forget it.

This means we may now be depending on the court system to protect the most vulnerable children. Ideally the Secretary of Education should be doing this. To me, this is the main reason DeVos’s nomination and confirmation are so frustrating.

As I mentioned, my brother went to school as an ESE student, and my mom worked as an ESE job coach. This has been the case under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Federal support for special needs programs has never been a concern, until now.

Boy, I hope I’m wrong about her, but I don’t think she was nominated to prove people like me wrong.

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Special Needs Children Threatened by DeVos Appointment

Lee DiGeorge, the father of an autistic little girl in New York, speaks out regarding the ways Betsy DeVos might harm his daughter’s education.

My daughter, Zoey, is autistic. She’s a fantastic little girl who has struggled with acquiring language. Thanks to IDEA, I have successfully forced the hand of local and state education departments to give my daughter the proper setting… the one that her doctors, her therapists and her teachers have begged for.

At first, in a blue state, in the bluest city in the world, I had to fight for services that were going to be denied. Because they’re expensive. Services that, according to IDEA, my daughter had a right to.

Leaving education in the states hands is terrible for the special education population. Before, I had the threat of federal intervention to help save the day and force the states to abide by the law. Who’s gonna help me fight the states when the DeVos won’t force the states to abide by IDEA?

Please, before you assume you know better. Or know more, ask me about my experience fighting the educational bodies on the local and state level. And how utilizing federal law has enabled my daughter to acquire more language now than ever before.

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U.S. Senate: America’s Teachers Expect You to Vote “No” on Betsy DeVos

Most problems in Education don’t arise from classrooms, but from well-meaning policymakers who are not experts in Education.

For example, like Betsy DeVos.

This should not be a partisan issue. DeVos has never administered a state Department of Education. Nor a School District. Not even a school. Neither she nor her children attended public school. This makes her a puzzling choice to influence public school policy. Common sense suggests that someone who deeply understands the issues children and teachers face in Public Schools would be the best choice.

Instead, we have someone who has never shown any interest whatsoever in Public Education, except perhaps to dismantle it.

Teachers are nearly unanimous in condemning the nomination. So Senators, please watch your vote. America’s teachers and parents will be watching as well.

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School grades measure nothing. Stop citing them.

Most of us know school grades are bogus, yet we all use them to attack opponents when grades fall. We need to cite actual facts instead.

Corrine Brown and the NAACP are justified to take issue with Vitti’s and the Board’s record. But this quote gave me pause:

President Isaiah Rumlin says the district’s 59 “D” and “F” schools, many with large populations of African-American students, is unacceptable.

There are plenty of reasons to question the effect of DCPS policy on minority populations. School grades are not one of them.

There are two components to School Grades:

1. Components outside administrators’ control. We should not measure administrators on factors outside their control.
2. Components within administrators’ control. Most of these components are poorly conceived, easily manipulated or both.

So, when we use school grades to criticize the Superintendent and School Board, we forfeit credibility, and even cause people to come to the defense of those who deserve criticism.

There are real things DCPS has done that disproportionally hurt minorities, or at-best are only for show:

1. Changing the way DCPS counts dropout percentage then claiming victory when little has truly changed.

2. Redrawing borders and converting “underperforming” schools into magnets. I agree with Mr. Rumlin that both are smokescreens:

(a.) Vitti is currently trying to expand magnets  despite research showing they exacerbate racial segregation.

(b.) The border redraws are likely for political show and school grade manipulation. Because if it’s a matter of pairing the right staff with the right students, DCPS can simply move staff where they are needed without redrawing borders. In fact, shuffling principals around like they’re pieces on a Risk board seems to be Dr. Vitti’s hobby: 65 changes in the past two years.

So when Mr. Rumlin calls the border shuffling “a charade”, I agree. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to accomplish.

3. Vitti closing almost all middle/high school libraries disproportionately hurts poor students without rides to the Public Library (who are disproportionately minorities). It wasn’t too expensive; it just was something DCPS was content to kill.

Again, the NAACP is justified to take issue with Vitti’s and the Board’s record; they simply need to leave school grades out of it.

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Duval County School Board moves to silence teacher blogs

If teachers are lying in their blogs, they can already be sanctioned for libel. This means such rules are not set in place to prevent lies, but to prevent teachers from stating the truth.

It’s become apparent that the School Board is mostly targeting a single teacher with this new “professional standard” forbidding blogs: Chris Guerrieri.

Board Member Scott Shine left this comment on Mr. Guerrieri’s blog post regarding the new policy:


Just an fYI on the social media policy, this was proposed as a policy addition from Dr. Vitti and was taken up by your liberal friends on the board in the policy review subcommittee (against my wishes)a month ago. They were unanimous in moving it to next years employee professional standards. So, you only have a few months to add to your resume of false and reckless statements. Sadly, I did not even get a chance to vote on it. So, give your thanks to Hall, Wright and Couch for the “anti-Guerrieri” code of conduct addition next fall. While I am highly disappointed I did not get in on the action, and still want to bring it forward as a policy addition as originally submitted by the superintendent, so it can take affect in before the end of this school year.

An elected School Board official gloated about a personal “victory” over one of his teachers, in the comment section of a blog belonging to that teacher.

He even called it the “anti-Guerrieri” rule; I’m no lawyer, but this strikes me as an extraordinarily foolish statement from a liability standpoint.

Shine seemed to issue a thinly-veiled threat against Chris Guerrieri’s job, telling a school teacher in writing he only has “a few more months to add to your resume.”

No matter how he finished that sentence, the choice of the word “resume” was intentional. Imagine a city councilor or state legislator bullying and threatening the career of a blogger who criticizes the politician’s actions. It’s demeaning to Shine’s elected position.

Shine has made it clear that Duval County, a government entity, is considering taking targeted punitive action against a whistle-blower. And possibly, as a government entity (DCPS is not a private employer), might (or might not, again I’m not a lawyer) be infringing on teachers’ First Amendment rights.

I’d tread very lightly on this topic if I were Shine, Vitti, or the School Board.

Exposing corruption and incompetence in Public Education is in the public interest. Teachers are the often the only people able to do so.

We can’t allow teachers to be silenced on this crucial issue. Thankfully, I’m not convinced the School Board or Vitti have this power.

EDIT: Here are my follow-up questions, as a non-lawyer:

  1. As stated above: I’m no Constitutional scholar, and I may be misinformed, but a government agency threatening the livelihood of an American citizen for criticizing government actions seems like a reasonably straightforward violation of the First Amendment [see new information below], at least to me.
  2. Barring that, I’m not sure an employer can impose such a far-reaching imposition into the after-hours activities of unionized employees without negotiating it with the union.

Again, I’m not a lawyer. These are just thoughts.

EDIT 2: For public employees, the First Amendment Center has produced a document detailing a legal litmus test called the “Pickering Test” (PDF Warning) that “balances the employee’s interest, as a citizen, speaking on matters of public concern with the government’s interest, as an employer, in providing the particular public services efficiently”. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule (little in the realm of Law is), but this quote from a Supreme Court decision stood out to me:

“Vigilance is necessary to ensure that public employers do not use authority over employees to silence discourse . . . simply because superiors disagree with the content of employees’ speech.”  -Justice Thurgood Marshall (in Rankin v. McPherson)


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DCPS must stop nullifying expulsions and alternative school assignments

In the interest of student privacy and avoiding FERPA violations/other retribution against those involved, I don’t feel comfortable sharing any of the multiple stories I’ve confirmed to be true regarding Duval County’s handling of discipline.

What I will say, is that Duval County has nullified expulsions/alternative school assignments, sending multiple dangerous students back to multiple neighborhood schools against the wishes of the schools’ administrations.

The best I can do at the moment is talk about my own experience that I wrote ten years ago regarding a Dean nullifying my own discipline decisions as a first-year teacher.

The parallels are strong, except I had someone to appeal to when the Dean undermined my authority, whereas these principals do not.

As always, I encourage any who doubt this is an issue to do their own research:

Written Mid-Year 2005-06

For a first year teacher like me, student behavior can become an issue at times. We are learning on the job, and learn little by little what works and what does not. I learned some things quickly, and have been able to handle most matters.

But my main problem is not with students.  In my experience, many administrators are more interested in whipping their new teachers into shape than whipping their students into shape.

To illustrate, my only real discipline issue has been with a handful of students in one of my five classes.  Like most of my classes, it’s comprised of students who have not performed well in the past. Some of the students are strong characters, and it takes a lot of creativity to manage them.

Still, I mostly deal with problems myself. I take students aside and talk to them privately.  I assign “problem” students to different seats. I send them for a timeout with another teacher. I call their parents. And, I document my actions.

But now, for the first time in any of my classes, I cut a lesson short because students talked loudly during lecture. I repeatedly told the same students to be quiet, politely but sternly. When that did not work, I finally turned off the overhead and explained, “Half of this class wants to learn; the other half doesn’t (which is accurate – many are in this class for laziness, not lack of ability). Those of you who don’t are interfering with my teaching and their learning. This will not continue.” For the first time that day, the class was silent.

Three of those students were problems from day one, and I had logs to prove it.  They neither feared their parents nor respected my requests. So, I wrote three referrals for 2.01 offenses (“Failure to follow directions regarding order in the classroom”). According to the Student Code of Conduct, a 2.01 is appropriate for students who habitually disrupt class, and mandates a minimum 2-day suspension.  Along with the referrals, I submitted six single-spaced typed pages of corrective-action logs for those three students.

The dean approached me and asked if she could change the names and publish the logs as examples in her doctoral program, because they were “a model” of what teachers are supposed to do. I was glad I had done well, and hoped the suspension would be a wake-up call for those students.

The next week, I received all three referrals – not just the teacher’s copy of the referrals as I had expected, but the entire triplicate – unprocessed.  They said, “Schedule parent conferences.” No punishment. I was slack-jawed. I had talked to their parents in the past, with no results.

After speaking to her privately, she said this was not an “order in the classroom” issue, but rather a “classroom management issue.”

Translation: an administrator looked me, a teacher, in the eye and said, “It is not the students’ fault that they were defiant: their defiance was your fault.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it. She said she would not punish the students for “Failure to follow directions,” because no one was physically threatened.  So in effect, students are free to disrupt class and be defiant to teachers; only when there is a threat of violence will administration be roused. Anything less is dismissed as being the teacher’s fault – a “classroom management issue.”

Yes, I’m a new teacher. In the future, I will learn to deal with difficult and strong-willed kids more smoothly than I do now, and diffuse tougher situations than I can presently.

In the meantime, I’m doing the best I know how. And in the moments I have a little trouble treading water, I expected administrators to throw me a rope instead of pushing me back down.

Administration tends to blame teachers for student behavior.  We should strive for a system where deans fulfill their charter to administer discipline, so teachers can concentrate on our charter to teach curriculum to students. I say this for one important reason:

After I stopped that lesson, I counted seven students who asked me for individual help. They are the victims; I’m not. For their sakes, I need the administrators on my side while I’m trying to figure out the art of teaching a little better. I don’t feel that’s unreasonable.

Teach the kids a little self-control, and give them a swift kick in the pants when they don’t exercise it.  At least that kick is from someone who cares about them and wants them to improve.  To me, that’s better than what the real world will offer them.

In fairness, I need to say how this story ended. On the advice of an experienced teacher, I took the unprocessed referrals and my six pages of documentation to the principal. By the end of the week all three students were suspended.

The principal’s actions sent the correct message to both the students and to me. Class behavior, class performance, and even my relationship with those three students all improved markedly after the suspensions.

The big difference between my situation and today: my discipline decision was nullified by a Dean, so I had someone to appeal to (my principal), and she made it right.

When a discipline decision is nullified by DCPS, there is no one to appeal to.

I’m not convinced DCPS administration have been using this power judiciously.

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