threat assessment

Will Proposed Changes to T/E Policy 5401 Prevent Police Involvement For Kindergartners With Down Syndrome Who Point Their Finger? Here’s Hoping!

There is a T/E School District Policy Committee meeting tonight, Tuesday, March 3, 7 PM at the District Office, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne. An important item on the agenda is follow-up discussion of Policy and Regulation 5401: Student Discipline.

The agenda for the Policy Committee meeting contains a proposed draft of Policy 5401. The focus of the Policy 5401 discussion at the last Policy Meeting of February 4 and public comments at the regular school board meeting of February 24 involved the consultation of law enforcement in the policy.

According to the meeting agenda notes for tonight, Policy 5401 “will be brought back to the Committee at the next meeting with proposed enhancements, including a definition of consultation, a consultation form, and a decision tree to reflect the protocol for assessment of threatening behaviors delineated in the Regulation.” The question will become, does the updated version of Policy 5401 achieve its goals?

Maggie and Mark Gaines and their kindergartner daughter Margot with Down Syndrome, is the family in the middle of the District’s policy governing student discipline and police consultation.  In a read of the proposed changes to Policy 5401, my interpretation is that the transient threat of the Gaines’ 6-year old would not require a consult with the police.

In part the proposed change to Policy 5401 reads, “ … Based upon the available information, the Threat Assessment Team will categorize a threat as transient or substantive. If the Threat Assessment Team determines the threat to be transient, they may consult with police for students in grades 9-12 …” It would appear that police consultation will no longer be part of the process for elementary and middle school students if the threat is viewed as “transient” (as was the case of Margo Gaines, the kindergartner with Down Syndrome).

From the beginning, the focus of Maggie and Mark Gaines has been on the actual process of Policy 5401 and the specifics as to “how” and “when” the District should  consult the police. Do the proposed changes to Policy 5401 satisfactorily meet that goal? I don’t think any of us want to see T/E School District making national (and international) headlines again over police involvement for a special needs kindergartner pointing her finger.

Below is a Facebook entry by Maggie Gaines regarding the Policy Committee meeting tonight; and is posted with her permission.

Please come out and support Mark Gaines and me as we push the school board to adopt new language to protect all our kids.

I’ve said this in the past, but will say it again. THIS is what Democracy looks like. We cannot allow our local elected officials to make policy that affects all of our children without input from the community and without keeping a watchful eye on how and what they put into these policies.

It truly is our collective responsibility to ensure they get it right. This is especially true for Policy 5401, which though its intentions were largely good, missed the mark, resulting in the school insisting they were required to call the police on my 6-year old kindergartner for pointing her finger at her special-ed teacher and saying, “I shoot you.”

I decided to go public with my daughter’s story because I recognized this was an issue not only affecting my daughter but many kids in our school district and in other districts in our area and around the country. I have put myself and my family out in the public sphere to make change. And now I’m asking you all to stand with me and to push for change, too.

Let’s make sure they fix this.

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Contested Primary on April 28: Five Candidates (3 D’s & 2 R’s) on Ballot for Sen. Andy Dinniman’s Seat in 19th Senate District

Democratic State Senator Andy Dinniman is not seeking re-election, announcing his retirement a couple of weeks ago. The Senator has represented Chester County’s 19th Senate District since 2006 and we learned that he has endorsed Don Vymazal (D), his governmental relations advisor to succeed him.

Following the news of Sen Dinniman’s retirement on February 7, and subsequent endorsement of Vymazal, two other democrats added their names to the list of candidates seeking the position  … Rep. Carolyn Comitta, former two-term West Chester mayor and currently serving state representative of the 156th District and Kyle Boyer, a first-term member of the T/E School Board and chair of its Policy Committee. Whereas Vymazal received the endorsement of Sen. Dinniman for his seat, Rep. Comitta (D-156) received the endorsement of Gov. Wolf for the position.

At the Chester County Democratic Committee held a couple of weeks ago, Don Vymazal garnered the most votes and received the party’s endorsement.  The endorsement process requires a 65% threshold and voting was as followed:

First Ballot:
Carolyn Comitta – 25%
Kyle Boyer – 27 %
Don Vymazal – 47%
(Rep. Comitta Eliminated)

Second Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 36 %
Don Vymazal – 63 %

Final Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 31%
Don Vymazal — 69%

Once Chester County Democratic Committee make their endorsements, often times the other candidates will drop out of the race before the primary election. But not this time; both Boyer and Rep. Comitta are staying in the race for Chester County’s 19th Senate District and will appear on the April 28 primary ballot.

It should be noted that  incumbent Rep. Comitta (D-156) did receive Chester County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for state representative. My assumption is that should Comitta win the primary election as her party’s choice in both the senatorial race and the state representative race, she would need to make a choice.  I am not completely certain about how the process works, but presumably Rep. Comitta cannot be listed as a candidate for both races in the November general election.

After nearly thirty years in public office, replacing Sen. Dinniman is no easy task.  And given the number of important issues facing Chester County – education, pipelines, environment and land development, etc. – where  Sen. Dinniman has been front and center for the community, the selection of his replacement is all the more important.

For instance, as minority chair of PA State Education Committee, Sen. Dinniman has led various initiatives to ensure quality education programs and reduce the cost of education. Although he has championed many causes during his tenure as an elected official, advocating for our children and their education has remained a high priority.

As most of us know, T/E School District has recently received massive national (and international) attention regarding its policy decision that involved the police in the recent threat assessment of a kindergartner with Down Syndrome.  As soon as the matter surfaced, Sen. Dinniman weighed in with a lengthy letter to the T/E School Board, questioning how the threat policy is being carried out. Although his statement is now widely shared, the reading of the letter by an audience member was not permitted at the last Policy Committee meeting. (Click here to read Sen. Dinniman’s letter).

T/E School Board director and chair of its Policy Committee Kyle Boyer is a candidate for Dinniman’s senate seat. Should the school district’s threat assessment policy and the police involvement in the handling of the 6-year old with Down Syndrome impact Boyer’s chances in the primary election? For the record, T/E School District Policy 5401 Student Discipline remains under review by the school board.

In addition to the three democrats on the ballot for the contested 19th Senate District seat held by retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman are two republicans. Republicans Kevin Runey and Amber Little-Turner also filed petitions to run in the 19th district. Runey is in the healthcare industry and is a Supervisor in the London Grove Township. Little-Turner from Coatesville is a real estate investment professional.

With five candidates (three Ds and two Rs) vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman, the contested primary race will be interesting.

In another local race, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) is seeking reelection. Rep. Shusterman is running unopposed on her party’s ticket and has no counterpart on the Republican ballot for the April 28 primary election. In addition to Rep. Shusterman, the Chester County Democratic Committee also endorsed Tredyffrin Township resident Chrissy Houlahan, incumbent for the 6th Congressional District.

For further information on all the local candidates, please check their social media sites.

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