TE School District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” Results in Police Record for Kindergartner With Down Syndrome — School Board, How is This Possible?

I learned of a troubling situation from the January 21 meeting of TESD Policy Committee. Although I was not in attendance at the meeting, I reviewed the video of the meeting and would encourage all reading this post to do likewise (click here for video).

According to Maggie and Mark Gaines, their 6-year-old kindergarten daughter (who has Down Syndrome) now has a record with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.  The following is from the statement read by Mrs. Gaines at the Police Committee meeting:

Our daughter Margot is a kindergartner at Valley Forge Elementary School. And she now has a record with the Tredyffrin police department, because the district alleged she had made a threat to her teacher.

On November 19, Margot, who has Down syndrome and often struggles transitioning between activities, was asked by her teacher to do something she did not want to do. At one point in her refusal, she pointed her finger at her teacher and said, “I shoot you.”

I imagine the utterance was not unlike the instances when I’ve told her it’s time for bed and she says, “I hate bed. I hate mommy.” As most parents can attest, I have learned not to take offense. For I know that a short time later she is usually cuddled up to me, while we read bedtime stories and exchange kisses and cuddles before saying good-night.

At any rate, the teacher claimed this response was a “threat” and brought Margot to the principal, who talked to my daughter and quickly determined that she neither understood what she was saying nor meant any harm to her teacher or any of her classmates.

The principal then followed district policy and convened a “threat assessment” team. The threat assessment team met and determined Margot had made a “transient” threat, which is simply an expression of anger or frustration with no intent to harm anyone. The threat assessment team recommended no disciplinary action. Also, there was no recommendation from the principal, Margot’s teachers nor any other members of Margot’s IEP team to address the “problem” behavior in her IEP since it appeared to be an “isolated” event.

I think most people would agree that this is where the issue should have ended. And yet it did not.

Mrs. Gaines received a call from the principal after the assessment team met to notify that the District policy required a call to the police regarding the incident. As any parent would do, she “disagreed and argued it was absurd to involve the police for an episode involving a kindergartner who pointed her finger, not in malice, but in protest to a request to change classrooms.”

The Gaines do not believe that the District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” requires the police to be called for a transient threat. However, the school district alleges that 6-year-old Margot with Down Syndrome made a threat to her teacher and therefore under Policy 5401 required police involvement.

Compounding the situation, we learn from Mrs. Gaines statement  that their kindergartner’s information was entered into the Tredyffrin Township police database and that it “would not be deleted or expunged after any reasonable time period”. When Mrs. Gaines asked the police officer who could have access to the information, the response was that it was publicly available.

I want to be clear  — nothing is as important as protecting our children and everyone wants our schools to be safe. But surely there must be a better solution than to create a police file on a special needs kindergartner. I do not want to believe that the District intended this outcome from its Policy 5401.

A statement by former school board director and chair of the policy committee Kate Murphy was read at the January 21 meeting and provided the following remarks,

Good evening Policy Committee Members,

When we revised Policy 5401, and reviewed the accompanying Administrative Regulation, we didn’t discuss a situation like this. Many of our changes and revisions were driven by events that occurred in our middle schools or high school, not in our elementary schools.

It wasn’t my intent to notify the police, or create a “record” with local law enforcement when an elementary-aged child made what our trained threat assessment team determined to be a “transient threat.”

Knowing now how this policy is enforced, please ask if this is your intent. Does it make sense to notify local law enforcement every time an elementary-aged student makes a non-substantive threat out of anger or frustration?

If this isn’t your intent, please clarify the language in Policy 5401, and ask the administration to do the same in their accompanying regulation.

Thank you

Thank you Kate for providing historic background on Policy 5401 — much appreciated.

Folks, watch the video of the January 21 meeting and the associated public comments and I think you will agree that review and clarification is needed for District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline”!

There is a school board Policy Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 4 at 7 PM at the Administration Building.  According to the meeting agenda, there will be follow-up on Policy 5401 Student Discipline. I plan to attend the meeting in hopes that the school board clarifies Policy 5401 and takes the appropriate action.

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  1. ****this is the 4th installment of a summary of the Policy meeting on January 21, 2020. PLEASE listen to the tape. If you do not have time to listen to the tape in its entirety (it’s an hour and 5 minutes on this topic alone,) please click on “Tredyffrin Easttown Policy Meeting January 21, 2020” under “Recent Comments” below on this website. Clicking on this will take you to the first three installments. They are posted under an essay written 2 years ago with a similar theme.

    A parent from the gallery stated that she had been at the police station all afternoon. and that there already is discretion for all of this in the “memo of understanding” created by the Police Chief and the Supt.

    Under the memo of understanding, The school may consider the following factors in the discussion on weather to involve law enforcement::

    The seriousness of the situation.
    The schools ability to diffuse or resolve the situation.
    The child’s intent.
    The child’s age.
    Whether the student has a disability.
    Type of disability.
    Impact of disability on students behavior.
    And other relevant factors.

    She said when she spoke to the police this same day, the police said they don’t view this as a consultation.

    The Police Chief and the Supt. created the memo of understanding so there is no need for consultation. The secretary simply writes down what is said. They took the template off the TE website and they use that. When they get a report and it has been deemed transient and the District took care of it, there is simply a secretary taking a log and they write down what the school said they did. Parents are not notified that the Police were notified.

    Another parent who identified herself as a B.U.I.L.D. Officer read a letter from a former Board Member and the letter urged the current Board to modify the current Policy so that 6 year Kindergarteners with Down Syndrome and their parents aren’t subject to Police involvement in similar cases in the future.

    The B.U.i.L.D. Official stated that the Police were called on her daughter a few years prior after B.U.I.L.D held a public event where a 6th grade girl spoke to the Board about her condition of dyslexia. She said her daughter was suspended from school and that her family retained a lawyer to get through the process because the Policy was not followed according to protocol. She said this has probably happened with other members of the B.U.I.L.D team and their elementary age children and she suggested the Board interview these families.

    A former Board Member spoke next and said “this has gone too far to say the least.” He spoke in support of the child and her family. He mentioned the memo of understanding and how that should have taken care of this.

    ….to be continued

    Thank-you to Pattye Benson for your attention to this very important and very disturbing matter.

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin Easttown Policy Committee Meeting January 21, 2020 Reply:

    This is the 5th and final installment of a summary of the January 21, 2020 Policy Committee Meeting.

    In closing, a parent asked Assessment and Accountability Director Mark Cataldy, since he was the enforcer of this initiative, if there was 100% no wiggle on calling the Police in the case. Mr. Cataldy stated that the Dewey Cornell model says that law enforcement has to be on the threat assessment team. She said, “it’s an option.” and he disagreed. She asked for clarification from the Policy Committee and Chair Kyle Boyer stated that he would be in error to say that.

    Another parent stated that there already is discretion in the Policy and that this did not have to occur. She read part of the Policy to justify her point.

    She said the memo of understanding defines where the flexibility is so this is a conversation about what is happening in practice.

    [Reply]

  2. I watched the video and this matter is extremely disturbing.

    Thank you to the brave family for coming forward publicly, it must have been a difficult decision. My question is where is the apology from the school board and its commitment to make this right?

    I hold the administration, staff and school board all responsible. As for the family, I hope that you are seeking legal advice.

    [Reply]

  3. Longtime resident,

    Again, wow! I listened to the tape. Apology? This goes well be beyond what an apology would call for. This is very scary.

    It’s sounds like and insinuates retaliation. The Administration/Board could do this to any of us. They don’t like what we say? They don’t like our opinions?

    They can overreact to any age appropriate behavior by our young elementary schoolage children, learning disabled or not, call the Police, traumatize the child for life and subject the parents and family to police involvement.

    This is scary.

    [Reply]

  4. Chescodems.org

    Kyle J. Boyer is an educator, minister, and life-long resident of Chester County. His work has intersected public education, the faith community, and public policy. He has taught various subjects at the middle and high school levels, and is a member of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Board of School Directors, chairing the Policy Committee and serving as liaison to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. As president of the West Chester NAACP, Kyle has championed the cause of civic engagement and advocated for marginalized individuals throughout Chester County. Since 2010 he has been an associate elder at his lifelong church, the Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ in West Chester, serving for eight years as youth pastor and chairing the first strategic planning initiative. Kyle received a BA from the George Washington University, MSEd and MPA from the University of Pennsylvania, and MDiv from United Lutheran Seminary.

    As you can see and read, Kyle is the perfect person to be the Chairman of the TE Policy Committee. As I understand, Kyle is running for public office at the state level.

    What are you going to do Kyle?

    [Reply]

  5. For those that are reading this post and are troubled that the kindergartner’s name is used, the choice to go public was made by her parents.

    On my Facebook page, there was a comment that this post should not have contained the 6-year-old’s name. Maggie Gaines (the child’s mother) responded with this comment “I think it’s important for me and my family to stand up and share our story. My hope is that when she’s old enough to understand and Google this, she’ll be proud that we stood up to right a wrong and make real change.”

    It was a personal decision made by the parents and I support their right.

    [Reply]

  6. An article by Erika Sanzi of Project Forever Free – Liberty Through Learning, http://www.projectforeverfree.org has just released an article, “School Officials File Police Report on Kindergartner with Down Syndrome”, https://projectforeverfree.org/school-officials-file-police-report-on-kindergartner-with-down-syndrome/

    The opening paragraph in the article by Ms. Sanzi as follows —
    We have all heard of school districts where discretion and common sense seem non-existent and poorly drafted policies end up being used to defend the absurd and the indefensible. The Tredyffrin/Easttown school district in Pennsylvania is one recent example of this troubling phenomenon.

    I hope that the TE School Board comes to the Policy Committee meeting tonight prepared to effectively and appropriately handle this situation.

    [Reply]

  7. The issue here isn’t really whether this particular situation and the underlying policy get addressed. I’m sure–thanks to the pressure Maggie and her friends’ are bringing–they will. Well done.

    The issue is an administration that acts incompetently and a school board whose first (and often, continuing) instinct is to defend that incompetence rather than question it. This pattern of behavior has been happening over and over and over in recent years. It is only on rare occasions that the community is lucky enough to have a real rally of support as is happening here. In most situations, the incompetence goes unnoticed, or the administration and board are able to quickly sweep it under the rug and bully the person who raised his or her hand into silence.

    Our Board needs to wake up. You weren’t elected to applaud and rubber stamp. Do your jobs!

    [Reply]

  8. My 60 year old sister has downs syndrome and has told me and others where to go on many occasions.The mother should have been notified before the police. As a mother of 5 grandmother of 9 and great grandmother of 7 I retired after 32 years as a school bus driver never once called the police. Political correctness is killing us. ASSESS the situation before you throw a 6 year old in jail.

    [Reply]

  9. Thank you Senator Dinniman for your support of this very important issue!

    [Reply]

    a local observer Reply:

    Is this a good time to mention that chair of the TESD policy committee, Kyle Boyer, is trying to primary Sen. Dinniman?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Remarkable, isn’t it!?

    [Reply]

  10. Pattye,
    Regardless of policy, a 6 year old child with Downs is a member of a protected class under The American with Disabilities Act.
    This child must be protected from wrongdoing. The child is not a threat to self or others, does not have a weapon or plan. The child may not understand the meaning of the words or action. The District must include special children in education in all regards. The child needs assistance, understanding, kindness and more per their legal rights under their protected status.
    The school must not generalize or misinterpret the policy.
    So sad that a 6 year old had to be subjected to this mishandling of policy.
    I suggest education to staff and a process to first get counseling, mental health and other appropriate approaches.

    [Reply]

  11. If this teacher perceived this action by a six year old as a threat, they clearly can neither handle a child nor make a clear determination of what a real threat is. I live in the area of Valley Forge Elementary and have two autistic children who have difficulty communicating and transitioning between activities and are due to enter the school in the next few years….I will not let this teacher within a hundred yards of my children. I hope to find out this teacher’s name so as to make sure my children do not have to interact with her. As a resident of the area for over 30 years and as a direct taxpayer myself for 10 years…this is not what this district is about and I am saddened to see this happen and as I contribute to her salary, I would like to fire this individual.

    [Reply]

  12. I attended the Policy Committee meeting this evening. Some highlights:

    A couple of commenters stated that their middle school children were viciously assaulted in school as recently as today, and the Police were not called, yet the Police are called on a 6 year old kindergartner with Down Syndrome.

    A commenter tried to read a letter from Senator Andy Dinnaman and Board Chair Kyle Boyer stopped her saying she didn’t need to read the letter because the Board received Andy’s letter and had read it. When she argued he interrupted stating her name and saying “we’re not allowing you to read the letter.” Then she or someone said, “why, because you’re running against him?” The audience gasped and I think I saw some women clutching their pearls.

    There was a lot of talk about the word “consult,” what it meant and when it should happen.

    Some commenters said they believe families and children subject to police involvement may have been the targets of retaliation from officials who are aware and question educational curriculums.

    [Reply]

  13. Correction:

    Some commenters said they believe parents who are aware and question educational curriculums may have been the targets of retaliation from District Administration.

    [Reply]

  14. This is effectively vigilante justice, and school authorities out of control. A young child with disability being given a permanent police record without 1) parent notification and participation 2) legal representation and 3) any type of judge adjudication. If this would have happened to my child, I’d immediately take the administration and the police involved to court.

    [Reply]

  15. As I frequently say, it’s about the School Board. It’s about who we elect to the School Board. Kyle Boyer and Sue Tiede are on the School Board and Kyle is the Chair of the Policy Committee. Former Personnel Administrator Sue Tiede has worked with the Administration for years if not decades. The Administration has their own language and Sue Tiede knows the language. She can steer the conversation to deflect away from talking about the real issues and onto something meaningless so as not to have to deal with the real issue. Kyle Boyer was a teacher IN the District. He worked for Sue Tiede, Mark Catady and Rich Gusuck who were all there last night. I have not seen Kyle go against the Administration one time since his term began.

    He is radically transparent though and I like that, a lot. He has said on more than one occasion that he supports teachers, he represents teachers. And that is very apparent when you go to meetings and hear him fiercely fight for teachers, while teachers have contracts that grant them the moon and they can and do anything they want to do with no consequence but that isn’t enough.

    It’s about Election Day. It’s about getting people elected to the Board who have the courage and the strength to stand up to the Administration.

    It was extremely refreshing to see two latest fiormer Board Members in the Audience. I really deeply appreciate that and hope they both continue to speak out and be involved. Not that their voices are more important or heard better, but their participation gives (at least to me) those of us fighting hard for kids and tax payers encouragement and hope.

    [Reply]

    TE Anonymous Parent Reply:

    Kyle Boyer should not be saying he represents teachers. He is not an authorized representative of them, and he is not a lawyer for them. He is an elected official, and he represents the taxpayers. He should be at these meetings for the taxpayers, as a fiduciary of their best interests in his judgment.

    How childish of him.

    [Reply]

  16. I agree with all B.U.I.L.D. officials and their points.

    There is one though, has stated my thoughts and feelings on this matter more than once.

    The one who went to the police station and spoke with police all afternoon.

    She correctly stated that there is already discretion for all of this in the memo of understanding. The memo of understanding was created by the Police Chief and the Supt. Of Schools

    It states:

    The school may consider the following factors in the discussion on weather to involve law enforcement::

    The seriousness of the situation.
    The schools ability to diffuse or resolve the situation.
    The child’s intent.
    The child’s age.
    Whether the student has a disability.
    Type of disability.
    Impact of disability on students behavior.k
    And other relevant factors.

    She said the police said that they didn’t view the call as a consultation. Mark and Sue know this.

    If the Policy already in place were followed, this would have never happened.

    So the discussion last night was really a deflection away from the real issue which Is really about the Administration and the real reason they chose to call the Police on a 6 year old kindergartner with Down Syndrome. Not what Sue Tiede brought up to Mark Cataldi——- the word consult, what it means and when it is applied.

    There should have been NO consult with the Police Mark and Sue. Flexibility is already in the Policy and in the memo of understanding created by the Supt. Of Schools and the Police Chief.

    I know you know that.

    [Reply]

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