Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. I would always put a child before politics.
    This is about keeping children safe and protected in school.

    I don’t expect the Board or administrators to be psychiatrists.
    I do expect safety and mandatory reporting.
    The main purpose of the threat policy mandated by the State is keeping kids safe.
    Whether or not there is a confidential consult by law enforcement will be the final determination by law enforcement.
    In Philadelphia elementary schools where kids are also protected by this mandate, there could be and have been serious problems. Age is not the only factor. Other possible issues.are domestic violence and or drugs in the home. This community is not perfect.
    I am so happy to see “the best interest of the child” be put first and foremost.

    Schools have limited information. A relationship with officers is essential.

    1. As far as issues go, Liz you have chose an odd one to plant a flag on.
      “Politics?” What politics?
      “the Board or administrators?”
      No we are expecting ACTUAL PROFESSIONALS in their field to make appropriate determinations.
      This is not Philadelphia
      Police officers have no expertise in these situations.

  2. Before calling police, these should be involvement of parents and counselors / psychologist preferably independent professionals instead of those in the schools. Immediately involving the police sends the wrong message to the kids, and may reinforce the poor behavior in older ones.

    1. It is obvious the case is most likely salient and not substantive. I am happy to see the wonderful parents speak up. I encourage them to lobby their local legislators to help formulate laws to protect children.

      It is the State legislators who instituted the threat assessment law in reaction to Sandy Hook. So, the public schools must follow the law and be mandatory reporters. The State law suggests a threat must be assessed.

      Step one:
      Is the threat salient or substantive? If substantive, the law calls for a police consult. Substantive means there is a plan to harm self or others with a weapon and or ability to do so. The intent to harm is real. Is there guns or other weapons in the home?

      Step two:
      Who is qualified to make the distinction between salient and substantive?

      The school must always report unusual behavior to parents.
      Under 14 years old, a student must be evaluated by a child psychiatrist in conjunction with their parents consent if it is a Substantive threat.

      The consult with law enforcement agencies is to check additional information on their data base. Is there a gun in the home, any domestic abuse, any police records that would be a red flag. It is not for the purpose of arresting or convicting.

      Here, it is not a juvenile record. It is to collaborate with other agencies to gain necessary information to prevent another Sandy Hook.

      The practical issue is there are not enough child psychiatrist to consult with in our area. There is stigma to mental health and fear of law enforcement.
      Thanks for sharing.
      Let’s be safe, work together and be kind.

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