With Major Headlines Across the Country — Should the TE School District Have Called the Police on a Special Needs Kindergartner?

The headlines about the kindergartner with Down Syndrome who was reported to the police for pointing a finger gun continue to roll in with no end in sight. There are countless articles in major newspapers, on network TV stations, Facebook groups, website and blogs on the issue all touting shock and disbelief that this has happened.

From the New York Daily News, Washington Post, Education Week, The Daily Mail (UK), ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN and on and on, including the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer today, the story of the 6-year-old Valley Forge Elementary School student has garnered much attention.

I have remained troubled since attending the school district policy meeting on February 4 and listened to Maggie and Mark Gaines, the parents of the special needs kindergartner caught in the middle of the debate, and to others referencing behavior problems that went unreported to the police. From school district parents, it is unclear which student behaviors constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police – the inconsistencies were glaring.

I simply do not understand how a middle school child can suffer a concussion at the hands of another student and there is no investigation from the school district yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a special needs kindergartner who is reported to the police for pointing her finger like a gun.  If perceived “threats” require police involvement, then my question is what does it take to get attention for serious physical assaults in the District?

Was contacting the police the appropriate handling of a special needs child with specific behavioral issues? Late this afternoon, an editorial written by Dr. Kim Doan, a professor in the Special Education Department at West Chester University appeared in the Daily Local and helps answer that question.

A special education educator for 23+ years and a parent, Dr. Doan attended the TESD policy meeting and suggests that the District’s student behavior policy is in violation of Federal legislation,

The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to individualize the education of children with special needs and that includes in discipline. A district policy cannot supersede federal legislation. Applying a policy in a “one size fits all” manner is tantamount to the violation of IDEA.

In assessing the student behavior policy of TESD, Dr. Doan states the following:

A policy, legislation, or assessment tool can be well written and thoughtfully designed but if the adults involved are not trained or consistent, then error is inevitable. Common sense should take precedence over all written policy. Let’s not criminalize our kindergartners before they’ve even learned their ABCs and 123s. The next time a similar event arises, consider the child for who he/she is as a whole person and think about why this little one made the statement to the teacher. We must remember that behavior is communication.

But rather than updating the student behavior policy to address special needs children as suggested by Dr. Doan, the school board is digging in its heels. At the policy meeting, all but two school board directors  (Scott Dorsey and Todd Kantorczyk) in attendance support the current policy, which includes reporting a six-year-old with Down Syndrome to the police.

Calling the police for a little kindergartner with Down Syndrome has become a public relations nightmare for the school district —  adverse media attention is problematic.  And touting the high performance test scores of our school district is not going to work this time; the problem is not going away. As the entire country (and beyond!) looks at the situation in disbelief, the District doubles down on the policy.

To be clear, the Valley Forge Elementary School teacher and the principal were doing their jobs when they called the police. The Tredyffrin Police in turn were doing their job. The problem is the District policy – we all want our children to be safe at school but the current policy goes too far.

Where does the school district go from here … ?

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30 Comments

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  1. At the education committee meeting tonight, the Board didn’t address the media firestorm at all. At the end of the meeting, I stated that I was surprised the Board didn’t comment on it. The chair Tina Whitlow, explained that they “have work to do.” I said I thought it was integral to the discussion and that it should be included in the communication.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Don’t think that it is wise for the District to ignore the negative press — I keep thinking that the school board/administration will post a public statement but nothing.

    [Reply]

    Liz Mercogliano Reply:

    Thanks for posting the update. The TE post is both fair and objective in light of the severity of the subject matter-safety.
    The public should go to the policy meeting to calmly discuss the issue.

    The day TE fails to thoroughly respond to a threat could be a sad day like Sandy Hook.

    As the TE post indicates, the police make the determination after the District consults with them.

    The police determine in their expertise as experienced trained officers per their protocol the level and type of threat.
    Please call the police for further details. Please attend the Police academy.

    The police DO NOT speak to the child. There is NO police record.
    Again, call TE police for the definition or explanation.
    There is no arrest, no charges, no police record in the. Criminal sense of the word. There is NO juvenile police record.
    Review criminal law.

    The matter is about Safe secure schools for all.
    Things happen. TE must take every threat seriously.

    [Reply]

    Citizen Reply:

    Liz,

    Thanks for your comments.

    What about the memo of understanding created by the Supt. Of Schools and the Police Chief which takes into account children with disabilities, age and how disabilities affect behavior? Why wasn’t the MOU considered in this case? Why have a MOU if it is not going to be considered? Is it considered in some cases but not others?

    Why didn’t the Police attend the Policy meeting? Chairman of the Policy Committee Kyle Boyer said the Police were invited to attend the Policy Meeying but they declined the invitation.

    And who wrote Policy 5401? Who interprets Policy 5401?

  2. I stated that the media firestorm is important and integral to the communication because many believe children in TE with learning disabilities whose Moms are BUILD officials are targets of the Policy due to their Moms involvement in committee and Board Meetings where they hold the Board and the Administration accountable for programs that affect not only their children but all children.

    The Policy is carried out in a very arbitrary way. Many children with disabilities have police records in TESD yet middle school students with concussions from beatings from other students do not have police records because the police are not called in those cases.

    I stated that it’s engrained in the TE culture to protect and shield employees from bad actions while students and parents who speak out are retaliated against. I then pointed to the post on Community Matters and I asked Sue if it was true, 3x’s.

    [Reply]

    Citizen Reply:

    I talked about the 8th grade teacher who has been suspended multiple times for verbally and physically assaulting students (were the police called?) only to return and repeat the pattern. Board President Michele Burger told me that there is a Union and they have to follow procedure. She said there are steps that are taken——-retraining and rehabilitation—-I told her that it isn’t working, that this is been going on for 10 years.

    This teacher knows exactly what he is doing. And so do his friends in the union and the Administration. It’s never about the kids, parents and taxpayers. It’s always about the teachers/Administrators.

    I told them if they keep doing this, a letter needs to be sent out to all parents of rising 8th graders describing in detail what their children are up against for the upcoming year. Here are some examples:

    He seat charts kids according to how smart he thinks they are, smartest in front, “dumbest” in back

    He calls kids , stupid, and moron,—-he tells them they’re low functioning

    He tells girls he thinks who are pretty and stupid not to work hard because they will marry rich or become trophy wives.

    He asks kids if they’re on crack cocaine when they enter his class.

    He humiliates minority students by telling jokes about their appearance.

    He is very, very angry because he was moved to the middle school to teach “dumb” 8th graders from the high school where he taught “smart” kids AP Physics. After ignoring me, I begged the Administration to move him back to the high school. I told them 18 year old AP Physics students have a better chance of defending themselves against his abuse than 13 year old powerless, helpless girls. One Administrator told me that this would be like “kicking the can down the hallway”. “moving a problem from one building to another.” That comment let me know the Principal at CHS doesn’t want to deal with him so they put him in front of defenseless, powerless, helpless 13 year olds to fend for themselves which is impossible.

    [Reply]

    Citizen Reply:

    Teachers are sent the message that there is no reason to fear consequences for their actions so they feel comfortable continuing the very abusive, bullying behavior that deeply negatively affects children.

    When I was talking about this in the meeting last night, It was clear by her anxious behavior that Michele was very concerned that I was going to speak the name of the abuser. She told me we were on tape and that we need to protect his privacy. What?

    What about the kids? Why aren’t the kids your first and last thoughts on this matter? Why is the first and only real thought about protecting the
    abuser?

    Scott Dorsey instructed me to keep talking, keep reporting. Okay Scott, I’ll keep talking and reporting and you keep listening. Wow!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Stroman Reply:

    I am appalled to hear this and I would like to know who this teacher is because union or not he needs to go.

    [Reply]

    Citizen Reply:

    Kevin,

    Thank-you for your comment. He’s been behaving this way for 10 years, probably longer but that’s when I started taking note.

    I think the best we can hope for is that if Scott and Michele get down on their hands and knees in the prayer position and beg, maybe the Administration will move him back to the High School to teach AP Physics to smart 18 year old kids and he’ll be very happy so maybe won’t feel compelled to act out against them.

    Citizen Reply:

    As I stated, I’ve been talking about this issue for years. I was in a meeting with two Administrstors at the High School. They told me that “it wasn’t their job” and that I should contact Administrators at the Middle School. I told them that I had contacted Administrators at the Middle School, on West Valley Road, at committee meetings, and at school meetings. In the middle of the meeting, I questioned their level of commitment to protecting children against the negative affects bullying teachers have on children.

    They got up and walked out of the room.

    I asked them what they were doing. They said that I stated that they don’t care and I told them that’s what their actions demonstrate.

    The same thing happened at the Education Committee Meeting. I appreciate (very much) that all Board Members were intently listening to me when all of a sudden, the Administrators got up from the table as if to signal that the meeting was over. The Chair, Tina Whitlow, looked at them and then at me and said, “we will stay and listen to you, but the Administrators will leave, they have things they need to do.” The Curriculum Advisor walked over to the side of the room and started shuffling papers. They began mulling around, talking. It’s clear they wanted the meeting to be over and for me to stop talking. I do Very Much appreciate Tina supporting me, the taxpayer, and I hope she continues to listen to community members who have the courage to give their point of view.

    Board, It’s clear that after all these years, the Administration gives you information that allows you to believe that this situation is Okay. I suggest that instead of talking to Administrators and believing what they say, you interview the children. There are many to choose from.

    AM Reply:

    Citizen – wow that escalated fast! To your questions… my actual initials are AM, I’m not an administrator or teacher, I am a current TEMS and elementary parent, TEMS and Stoga graduate, I could go on. So no, my question wasn’t some attempt to be funny. By your response I see that I am correct and this has weighed heavily upon me after reading your post. I did coach with the teacher in question when I got out of college and we played on a team together. In fact he was at my wedding with other teammates. Having said that we haven’t been in touch for many years and I am sick to think this is the man he has become. Again, it wasn’t the person I knew.

    Citizen Reply:

    AM, since you’re not a teacher and you’re not an Administrator, let’s get together and meet. I enjoy meeting new people from Pattye’s site so if you give her your contact info, I’ll call you.

    This issue has been on a slow burn for years. It hasn’t escalated quickly.

    In your first comment, you said that you coached with “the person who must not be named.” I pay attention and I have no knowledge of “the person who must not be named” coaching children or anyone. I know coaches in each sport at TEMS and CHS.

    I look forward to our meeting.

    AM Reply:

    Citizen – does the teacher’s last name end in M? If so that makes me very sad, we coached together years ago and I considered him a good friend. Not the character of the man I knew.

    [Reply]

    Citizen Reply:

    AM

    Are those your initials? Are you an Administrator?

    Teachers talk a lot about how “sad” things are. Are you a teacher?

    Because a lot of teachers coach together and you say you coached with this person. If you’re a teacher and you coached with this person, then you know how this person operates in your school. Could you please talk with this person and beg him to stop verbally assaulting classroom students?

    I know the President of your Union knows because I e-mailed her asking for a meeting and she refused to meet with me. I described in detail this persons behavior towards students in the class room. This was before the latest suspension so I’m assuming either she didn’t talk to this person and ask this person to stop, or has no control over the behavior of this person or likes this persons behavior or like other people in power in the District demonstrate…..just plain doesn’t care. Do you know which is correct? I’d love to know.

    I suggest you contact Board Director Sue Tiede for all questions regarding this matter. Sue was Personnel Director in the School District and so would have to know this person and their antics well. I hope current Board Directors ask her detailed questions about this case and all cases of teacher abuse on students they teach.

    Is this a game to you AM? Or a joke? Because it isn’t funny.

    rl4life Reply:

    I don’t understand why the teacher is not named.
    What are the ramifications?

    Citizen Reply:

    I’m not sure why “the person who must not be named” cannot be named. I’ve asked and received no answers.

    It’s as if you’re talking about “he who must not be named” himself. The Boards only concern is not naming “the person who must not be named.” They say things like, “Im sorry” In the insincerest way possible, and “well your kids aren’t there anymore” as if that takes care of it because why in the world would I care about the abuse someone else’s kid suffers.

    From what I’ve read about similar cases in other Districts, the Administration/Board is afraid “the person who must not be named” will sue the District.

    It’s like the headlines stated on the front page of the Philly Inquirer last week regarding the police call by the TESD Administration on a 6 year old Kindergartner with Down syndrome:

    THIS IS INSANE

    Name Reply:

    TESD operates under invisible and subjective sets of rules to achieve the best outcome/protection only for themselves…rather than students. Parents (and students) that question or challenge them become targets of retaliation by this group of self-serving bullying thugs that operate in an environment of zero accountability. There is a reason that many of us responding on here feel we cannot use our names.

    [Reply]

    Liz Mercogliano Reply:

    You are absolutely right. Each threat is different and should be handled fairly in a standardized method. Each incident must be reported by “educators” as mandatory reporters. The incidents must be recorded in school records.
    The school must educate the child with parents on better ways to express feelings.

    However, a hypothetical child assaulting another child is not related to the threat policy. It is under another policy listing PA Criminal Code. Parents can report and file assault and battery charges. Students should report the incident and see the school nurse.

    So, the first issue of alleged assault and battery between students falls under a criminal policy. Check the school policy and the PA criminal law.
    The second issue is under a threat policy mandated by law.
    Both are serious issues.

    [Reply]

  3. Pattye,
    Thank you for originally bringing this to our community’s attention.
    We support and applaud the Gaines’ fight for justice for their child.

    The newly elected liberal board is reflecting how they see “justice”.
    Wait until a student is discovered attending TE without living in the district—
    See how tough the board will be with that student—-their double standard
    is a disgrace…and now, the country is watching!

    [Reply]

  4. Ten years ago I worked in this very building. All I can do is simply sigh and no longer keep quiet. Since that time we have raised three remarkable children and our 2014 CHS graduate is a Social Welfare Graduate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison (and a four year student athlete) (2018) and employed locally and works with people with disabilities.
    “How disgusting and shameful. A call home and a meeting with parents should have been the way to resolve this. T/E schools need to do better and the teacher should be required to attend sensitivity training and be held responsible for escalating this situation- I don’t care if this is policy. No policy is “one size fits all” and here’s a great example. Perhaps mandatory education on disability awareness for all teachers and administration as well. T/E should be ashamed and should be working overtime to review policies like this that will repeatedly fail minority groups like children with disabilities”.

    I see you TE and I am here for it.

    [Reply]

    Citizen Reply:

    K. Hudson,

    It’s not the Policy that’s the problem, it is the Administration who interprets the Policy in a willy nilly, arbitrary way that is the problem. Policy and “intervention programs” wriiten and designed by the Administration are used as tools to weaponuze them against students and parents who speak out in ways they don’t like.

    We’ve never met but I know who you are now. I have a 2014er too. Let me know if you want to have a walk sometime.

    [Reply]

  5. Thank you for also keeping the light on the lack of action for the child who sustained a concussion at the hands of a child who has hurt other kids. There was quick action on the other disruption of that day at that school maybe because teachers were impacted? Bottom line is all kids should feel safe and those with special needs given the support they need to keep them and those they interact with safe. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and answers provided.

    [Reply]

  6. No blame to the teacher or principal? Hardly!! Both positions need to include a strong sense of judgement, right vs wrong, and of teaching how students can best become good citizens. Calling the police without first consulting with parents/guardians and involving them is simply wrong. And while the district’s policy is outrageous (give us your smart and well behaved so we can continue to get top state and national ranking) their accountability to those living in the township continues to be nonexistent. ALL teachers and administrators need to think before simply acting by such “regulations”. They need to be able to put themselves in the position of the parents before acting. They need to think about the feelings, implications, and longer-term effects of actions on a young child with or without a disability. And they must absolutely include parents or guardians in any such action.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I heard what you are saying but don’t teachers and principals (per their contracts) have an obligation to follow district policy or risk their jobs if they don’t?

    [Reply]

  7. And this summarizes what is wrong with so much of the district and this issue. Follow the rules to be safe vs doing what is ethically and logically right & correct. If the kid that caused a concussion didn’t have the police called with no further repercussions, why should anything have happened in this case if police would not have been involved? It would have not become a worldwide story. This entire set of comments would not exist. People need to learn to think before acting, full stop.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Exactly. Shouldn’t there be student behavior policy that takes into account special needs, age, etc. And I do not understand how it is that a child suffers a concussion at the hands of another student and the process is “vague” as to its handling. And a perceived threat by a special needs kindergartner has the police involved. Many of us are rule followers if the rules makes sense but at some point common sense needs to be considered — certainly the teacher and principal knew that this little kindergartner posed no threat, yet policy required a consult with the police.

    [Reply]

  8. School Bullying Policy

    It is the policy of the District to provide a safe and positive learning environment free from bullying behaviors. Bullying occurs when a student or a group of students intentionally and repeatedly uses hurtful or intimidating words, actions or other behaviors against another student.

    What should students and parents do when they’re bullied by teachers/Administrators?

    Conspicuously absent from this Policy, is how to address abuses of power by teachers/Administrators toward the students/ parents they are supposed to serve.

    In order to address teacher/Administrator bullying in the District, the Board needs to confront and understand that teachers and Administrators rationalize and normalize bullying. It is ignored by other teachers who remain silent so it is enabled because no one does anything about it. Kids normalize it —- they are powerless to do anything, so it models this type of behavior to them as valid and appropriate.
     

    [Reply]

  9. It doesn’t seem to matter which political party holds the majority on the school board, the taxes go up each year and the scandals continue. But to call police about a kindergartner is a new low. Does the school board really think its OK that the entire country is looking at TE like its lost its mind? This is not about politics, its about doing what’s right. As the Inquirer article says, This is Insane!

    [Reply]

  10. Pattye,
    Ask Tredyffrin and Easttown police Chiefs for their input
    Yes, Dr. Dosn has a great theory of Violation of Federal law.
    It is possible legal theory if the evidence rises to the level of a lawsuit in Federal Court but the policy and police consultation per PA law requires the District must not violate the Federal disability law.
    The threat assessment fact gathering must be “Solely for the purpose of threat assessment and no other reason.”
    Is their another reason?

    [Reply]

  11. Pattye,

    Thank-you for this essay/information about The editorial written by Dr. Kim Doan.

    Someone like Kim Doan, it may have been her, tried to speak about this at the Policy Committee meeting. Solicitor Roos shut her down and muzzled her because he said she wasn’t a resident of the District.

    This person asked me to read her notes for her which were unique to her so not clear to me. I did the best I could but it was clear I was unfamiliar with the subject matter. Recognizing my discomfort and lack of expertise regarding the subject matter, Chair Kyle Boyer started asking me questions about it. Cheap shot and demonstrated his loyalty to Administrators and Solicitor Roos who created this mess. The person who wrote the notes answered Kyles question from the back of the room.

    I’m grateful this information was published. It’s very important and thank-you Pattye for writing about it.

    [Reply]

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