Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Singled Out

I feel as if I am Waldo and spend most of days wondering where I am.
This weekend was my attempt at moving towards writing full time.  I went on a retreat to a writer's colony outside of Sewanee a town infamous for it's celebration of writers.  I had no expectation nor actual belief I would write a word nor would I like it.   I was write, okay play on words which is what a writer should do.  I wrote some but it was what I thought and I will  leave it at that.

I have been framing my book in my head for so long it is a matter of just doing it but I think like anything it is best from my home, my office where I have a sanctuary and room of one's own.  I don't feel the muse or urge to strike me elsewhere I just need to do it and like all things in my life, I am my own distraction. 

I came to Nashville for many reasons and stumbling on the writing community was just that a stumble.  There is nowhere near this in Seattle but I had not ever looked nor thought to, I was too busy fighting all the time for my survival and little did I know that is what I do here just differently.   I may be actually moving past this now as I have a better understanding of the nature of the climate here and by that I don't mean the weather. 

The constant question is "Do I like it here?"  I don't think so but I also am not vested into it as if it would matter.  My surgery is getting closer to happening and from that healing and recovery and then hopefully I can move on in every sense of the word. 

Writing is now almost to the level of need, a true desire to express my thoughts, put them on a page, throw them out there and see what it brings back. I have had enough ill wind in the last 5 years that any more at this point is just a minor breeze.  How to tell that story, however, is the one that I suspect will be my most challenging.  But that too will wait for another time and another place.

I had never participated in many retreats in my life, I figured what I am retreating from but I have been a runner.  In schools I changed them often and laugh when an aides says, "that is a runner."  Yes I get it I really do.  I run still as an adult and I am the Loneliest Runner who has never stayed in jobs, relationships or places long.  And I overstayed my welcome in Seattle by about a year. I had been planning to move to Denver when the invitation for that fateful drink led me to near death and destruction and it is the one time I wonder what if when it comes to all of that.    To this day I know that not one person believed me about what happened  and if they did they were never going to allow me the satisfaction of that truth or that I was telling the truth.  So living here in the South and finding that truth here takes on a whole new meaning has placed me in a tough place.  So,  Nashville I am afraid is not the place where I can check the bags I dragged her and let them stay here. We will have to move on.

I finally figured out that the South is a place of permanent melancholy, the history, the music, the weather and the odd resentment and isolation from America that led it to nearly cede from it may be why a Century later little has changed.   It  explains the reverence for the Military, the Police and the constant belief that the Government is the problem and not the solution all while being the part of the country most reliant upon it. The South the constant contradiction.

And as I sit here in a Special Needs classroom with a mixture of learning disabilities most on the spectrum I am not sure how I feel. In Seattle these rooms gave me hope in Nashville despair.  The lack of funding, the lack of trained qualified educators or what I suspect individuals frustrated and isolated ones, coupled with aides that have little to no training nor actual concern for the well being of their students contributes to that despair.   That and the overwhelming focus on discipline which dominates the Southern focus on education across the board that turns schools into half military academies/prisons doesn't do much to foster optimism.

 These very same issues existed in Seattle and it was there I saw a black box room or the "padded cell" where I witnessed  a child be placed in it screaming and beating the door for what seemed hours but it was only minutes until he exhausted himself and stopped only to be released.  To this day the purpose was for what?       These were a problem through the district and through lawsuits and media attention the State passed a law regarding the issue.   But on average the Aides and Teachers were clearly better educated or at least seemed to be.   And again the Union was a strong advocate not just for the Adults but the kids whom they were in charge of.    I may be right now seeing this in rose colored glasses as I had not been in many SPED rooms in my last years in Seattle so I am not sure how truly good or truly awful they really are. But the concept of resource rooms and integration and segregation are very different here and that truly marks my concerns.    And again here in the South denial is swept under the rug, with truth and along with it admission of guilt and responsibility.  To think that all these kids need is a "strong hand" is not only disturbing it is tragic.
 Last night in Nashville I watched the local news and they were covering the issue of corporal punishment as a matter of issue regarding SPED and how while it was legal it was disproportionately directed towards kids with special needs.  And of course the news is always full of some story where  a Teacher was caught on camera hitting a special needs student. And the issue of cameras in classrooms I think is a worthy one but like Police body cams it will mean actually someone reviewing them and using them to educate and inform a tool that is one focused on the safety and protection for all.  I don't see that happening so what goes on in the SPED room stays in the SPED room and that is a whole ball of wax.

And the classroom I have been in the last 2 days I watched  as the women were struggling with discipline to the point I wondered if they did in fact hurt the children or were on best behavior when a Sub is there.   I don't  think they liked the kids at all and this was a job just a job.  The idea that writing happy faces, sad faces in their notebooks to be sent home somehow taught the families what?  And in turn the endless parade of kids with varying levels and types of learning disorders only further confused me and if it confused me a functioning adult, what is it doing to the kids? I had two kids who simply refused to do any tutoring activity they wanted to play so let's head back to your class and perhaps just work with the regular class and do work as I was not going to just let them do nothing.  Of course that was not what the Teacher wanted, they are discipline problems to her not just kids who need specialized lessons that she and the SPED teacher could work together and devise, then in turn have it checked and retaught in the resource room, much more effective plan.  But no,  that hour was one or in this case two less problems were gone so she complained when I returned them a half an hour earlier than "scheduled."  Yes well again I have no real tools, no real lessons or plans in which to make this work so which is and in that case I would be happy to take them to the outside or to the library and at least make it useful.   This is what SPED has become, a piecemeal program that serves some and not others and none of them well.

Autism is the most complex.   And we need to be honest, kids on the spectrum if they cannot communicate but can function make sure the staff and child have a clear method in which to do so.  Half talking, half using talking boards is not the answer.  One therapist said if they had tools (aka smart pads)  to encourage words and speaking that would help them immensely as they only had a hour a day in which to develop language and that is not every day so these kids needs are not being met.  Then there are those who will never speak and likely never learn more than rote.  This is always a tough balancing act and one former SPED Teacher said it is setting everyone up for failure.

At this school the aides kept talking about the kids from last year were "better."   Right there it said this is a broken program.  In an elementary school in a largely Autism program they should just have the same kids K-5  year to year, so where were they?   A new crew every year? But I truly don't get their SPED programs here.  No kids in Elementary and particularly on the Spectrum were integrated or mainstreamed except with an Aide accompanying them at all times. And to integrate them with functioning but learning disabled kids seems confusing to both the kids and adults and it is not easy and needs careful structure.  

This is a complex balancing act  as how to distinguish needs, to create functioning plans and classroom order means wearing too many hats but then again I have not been in classic SPED rooms in years so this might be the new normal.  But it is a juggling act to find the right balance.  But with the current political climate and the new Secretary of Education who has a very similar ethical style and education found in the South (aka religious based) and her lack of familiarity nor interest in upholding federal laws regarding education, such as The Americans with Disability Act,  I worry if what I see here will become the standard and that standard with regards to it has a spotty if not inconsistent history of application across the country.  This article in the Atlantic discusses how this issue is not just about the classrooms that are for the disabled as it relates to the school community overall and how we perceive discipline and in turn education and those two factors are not mutually exclusive. 

So the child with Autism, the child with ADHD are often classified and treated in the same way behavioral issues are and they are not the same; however, they are often the same when it comes to color and class and in turn access to adequate resources.  To say the lines are blurred would be on thing to say they exist at all another.   What I have been seeing that is that the kids labeled "disabled" here seem to be thought of is a "problem" that needs resolution and in turn that is via discipline not advocacy and assistance to have just part of the day some functioning lessons, some normalcy and possibly growth.  The things any parent wishes for a child.   

The salary, the lack of training and education, the job itself is not for the faint of heart and while I have tons of one and less of the other as in money I have to set boundaries and clear lines not in sand as to what I will or will not do.   So once again I cancelled the jobs that were left at this school as I really did not get what was going on in this room and wondered why the long term sub who agreed to finish the remaining school year for the Teacher who was going on Maternity Leave was not there to start immediately and then only do one day that week.   Why one would agree only then work on and off the last two weeks seemed to once again fit the So, Nashville ethos here.   These kids and school need consistent presence and someone willing to do the heavy lifting, but then again logic and critical thinking are one synapse off here.    But then I also feel that this woman is not coming back and has not been honest to her colleagues, her school or the families, the room is full of empty boxes, the lack of actual lessons in place, workable and teachable items are lacking so I am not sure what to make of it but once again I want no part of it.  I cannot look at the faces of these children in need and think short term.  Sorry but they deserve better.

So while I want to sweep Nashville under the same broom of doom and gloom that dominates this system of education here, I have to remind myself that this is not the exception but the rule and the ruler used to slap hands and bring kids down still exists here and elsewhere.

ACLU: Teachers abuse kids with disabilities
Unsettling evidence suggests that corporal punishment policies are targeting the most vulnerable children.

by: GreatSchools Staff | March 4, 2016

Landon K., an autistic 6-year-old, was a first-grader in Mississippi when an assistant principal administered an approved punishment: striking the child on his bottom with an inch-thick paddle.

The incident terrified the child, causing him to lose control. “He was screaming and hollering,” Landon’s grandmother Jacquelyn K. later told the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It just devastated him.”

Landon was so upset by the paddling he had to be sedated by ambulance workers.

Sound like one of those rare cases of abuse that grab headlines but are basically unprecedented? Unfortunately, the facts are a little more disturbing.

It’s well documented that children with disabilities are at risk for bullying by other students. But it’s not just kids who can be cruel. Teachers and administrators also disproportionately single out disabled students for violent punishment in the name of discipline.

Landon is just one of the tens of thousands of children with disabilities who are paddled at school in the United States every year, according to a new report by the ACLU. “Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students With Disabilities in U.S. Public Schools” (pdf) found that students with disabilities are more likely to be paddled than others and that some children are hit for exhibiting behaviors directly resulting from their disabilities.
Corporal punishment in our schools

Questionable reprimanding of students with disabilities is hardly limited to paddling. According to the report, they have been hit with rulers, grabbed with force enough to bruise, pinched, struck, and thrown to the floor — all by teachers and administrators. And the ACLU isn’t the only one raising the alarm about the issue: so is the federal government. An explosive report (pdf) issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in May 2009 documented hundreds of cases of abuse and even death resulting from restraint and seclusion used in public and private schools and treatment centers over the past 20 years. Almost all those cases involved children with disabilities.

Among the horrors the GAO report uncovered was the case of a 14-year-old boy with post-traumatic stress syndrome in Texas who died when a 230-pound teacher placed the child face-down on the floor and lay on top of him. The teacher was punishing the 129-pound student for not staying seated in class. While the teen’s death was ruled a homicide, a grand jury did not indict the teacher, who is currently teaching in Virginia.

Only 15 states currently have policies on when and how restraint and seclusion can be used in school — that leaves 35 where it’s up to the teacher’s discretion (and potential misjudgment). But in the wake of the GAO report, in August Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked all state school chiefs to submit their policies on restraint and seclusion. As a result many states have formed task forces to create new policies.

The battle over paddling

“Restraint should only be used when a child is a danger to himself or others rather than used to punish or for compliance,” says Nadine Block, a former school psychologist who is now serving on a task force developing such a policy for Ohio schools. Teachers and administrators should also be trained on how to safely restrain children, she argues.

But even if all states clarify their policies on restraining students, it won’t help children like Landon who are paddled (or, in the vernacular of some administrators, “popped”) by their teachers. Currently, 20 states — from Idaho to North Carolina — still permit corporal punishment in schools. According to the Center for Effective Discipline, an advocacy group working to eliminate paddling in schools, 223,190 children were hit during the 2006-2007 school year, with certain states turning to the paddle more often than others. Three-quarters of the paddling incidents reported to federal officials occur in just five states: Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia. In Mississippi, some 7.5% of students were hit; in Arkansas 4.7%. Since the early eighties, the frequency and prevalence of corporal punishment in U.S. schools has been steadily dropping.

Disproportionately singled out

While students with disabilities make up just 14% of the nation’s student population, they represent about 19% of the students who suffer such corporal punishment, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

In some states, students with disabilities are far more likely to be on the receiving end of the stick than their peers; Tennessee students with disabilities are spanked at more than twice the rate of the broader student population.

Children diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are the most likely to receive such physical discipline from teachers and school officials, according to a new report (pdf) from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, an advocacy group for special education students.

Why? “Their behaviors are more challenging,” explains Block, who is also the executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline. “They’re more difficult to work with in many cases. Over the years, more of those kids are in regular classrooms, and many teachers lack training in how to deal with them.”

Long-term effects

Being paddled, much less physically restrained or locked in a room alone for hours, can change how a student feels about his or her education. After being paddled, Landon was terrified to go to school.

“The next day I tried to take him to school, but I couldn’t even get him out of the house,” says his grandmother. “We carried him out of the house; he was screaming. We got him to school but had to bring him back home.”

According to experts, long-standing fears are an all too common reaction. “Children are afraid to go to school when they’ve been paddled,” says Block.”It sets up an adversarial and alienating relationship for the child.”

Eventually, Landon’s grandmother withdrew the traumatized boy from school, fearing for his physical and mental health, despite threats from truant officers that she could go to jail.

“If I felt he would have been safe in school, he would have been there. I’m sure they would have paddled him again. I don’t trust them,” she says. “And the sad thing about it — he can learn. He can learn.”

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