Keeping Students Safe

Indianapolis Public Schools employee accused of sexual misconduct involving a student

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Arsenal Tech High School

An Indianapolis Public Schools employee was accused of sexual misconduct at Arsenal Technical High involving a student, district officials said.

The incident was reported June 1, according to officials, who declined to identify the employee. The staff member is no longer employed by the district, officials said, but they declined to comment on whether the staffer left voluntarily or was terminated.

The district released a statement saying that all necessary reports were filed immediately to Child Protective Services and in compliance with Title IX, a federal education law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment and assault. “Protecting our students is our top priority and we will continue to be diligent in our efforts,” the statement said.

The incident was also reported to the Indianapolis Public Schools police, according to district spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black.

In addition, Arsenal Tech has been undergoing leadership turnover. After less than one year leading the school, Principal Lloyd Bryant recently submitted his resignation.

Chalkbeat was unable to reach Bryant for comment Wednesday. Reached for comment Thursday after this article originally published, Bryant said that he resigned for family reasons and that his resignation was unrelated to the sexual misconduct report at Tech. He said he is leaving to rejoin his wife and children, who remained in Washington, D.C., when he took a job with Indianapolis Public Schools in 2016.

Black declined to comment on Bryant’s resignation, saying the district does not comment on personnel matters. Chalkbeat was unable to reach Bryant by email or phone.

Bryant took over as interim principal last year after the school abruptly lost Principal Julie Bakehorn. He was later hired to lead the school next year during a district-wide high school reconfiguration.

Indianapolis Public Schools was sharply criticized for failing to report child abuse in 2016. Two district employees faced criminal misdemeanor charges for not immediately reporting sexual abuse allegations against a school counselor, involving a student. The counselor, Shana Taylor, and two employees were fired, with three others resigning in the wake of the incident.

Update: June 28, 2018: This story has been updated to include comment from former Arsenal Tech Principal Lloyd Bryant.

Asked and answered

Are special education reforms moving too slowly? Chicago monitor responds to criticism.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Just four months into her role as the powerful independent monitor overseeing efforts to reform special education in Chicago Public Schools, Laura Boedeker already faces angry, public criticism.

The state created the monitor’s office earlier this year after a public inquiry found that Chicago was systematically delaying and denying educational services — guaranteed by federal law — to special-needs students. But on Monday, advocates for special education charged that Boedeker and her superiors at the Illinois State Board of Education have failed on many counts to improve services and to communicate with parents.

At the same time, the advocates released findings of a survey of 800 parents and teachers that backed their charges. The next day, Chicago parents finally received an email from Boedeker and her boss, state board General Counsel Stephanie Jones, that linked to updated special education protocols and parent trainings, and suggested that the state was working on a plan for families who want to file grievances.

In an interview with Chalkbeat on Tuesday afternoon, Boedeker responded to the criticism, described the work she’s done, and outlined what’s ahead.

What exactly is your job?

Being that one person in ISBE who is dedicated to overseeing, correcting, and addressing concerns about special education in Chicago Public Schools.

Do parents know you exist?

I hope so. They seem to. The word is getting out there, I can tell that.

We’re getting more attendance at our parent workshop sessions, and there’s a new topic every month. I’m seeing more parent emails. Not so much in the sense of  “I’m complaining about services,” but “I wanted to let you know this is something going on at my school.”

Why did it take several months to introduce yourself to parents and tell them what you’re doing as monitor?

We really wanted to.

But where it got really complicated is we really wanted all the information to be in the letter, including the student-specific corrective action, rather than sending out two letters. We also saw delays in trying to come to an agreement on language along with the advocate groups as well. It was hard to reach an agreement about not just appropriate language, but the level of the language of the letter.

A survey released this week indicated that special education reform in Chicago has been slow and under-resourced. How do you respond to that?

We are talking about very pervasive, systemic issues that were already problematic before the advocates submitted their letter last November [an action that helped put in motion events that led to the state monitor overseeing Chicago schools]. This is going to take a long time. There’s been a lot of broken trust between parents and schools, parents and central office, parents and administrators.

There’s a lot of restoration and repair we need to address even before we can go in and dig really deep into those corrections.

And as far as resources go, we have been wanting to take this first month or two to get a better idea of where I need more assistance. That’s something you’re not going to know until you start the job, when school is in session. We have regional offices that we work with and that I will be partnering with as specific to CPS. As far as my surrounding staff goes, that’s something that I’m discussing with [the office of the general counsel].

How many schools have you visited?

A small handful — less than 10 so far. That’s something we’re just starting to schedule because we’ve been getting a lot of feedback over the first two months of school, so we now have some action items, some investigatory points. I’ve had a lot of district representatives go into schools and do investigations. My plan is to go in and see if I’m seeing the same things they are reporting.

From the schools you’ve been to, what have you seen?

What’s been fascinating is that there’s so many stakeholders in special education. At the center of everything is the student, of course, and then you have the laws that surround special education — federal and state laws. And then you have a group of all these adults that have different understanding of special education. Even if they have the same understanding, they have different interpretations and beliefs about how things should be done.

So it’s really about getting inside of that story. For example: At a school I went to last week, I [received a] lot of staff outreach. And if I’m just going on the staff outreach, then I think the principal is assigning special education teachers to gen ed classrooms when a teacher doesn’t show up. But when we got in there, it was a little different than what was portrayed via the staff.

What was happening?

In this particular instance, four teachers called off that day, so they had four absences they were trying to deal with. It came down to [the principal asking special education teachers] can you please go to this classroom, unless or until we get a substitute who is arriving within the next 10 minutes, so these students aren’t alone without an adult.

What are some other concerns you’ve heard from schools you’ve visited?

Paraprofessionals being assigned to roles that aren’t IEP-based [referring to individualized education programs, which schools must create for each special-education student]. For example, covering lunchroom duty. That’s not a proper use of a paraprofessional.

A lot of scheduling concerns go back to schools being trained to properly schedule their teachers, so if a teacher does call off there can be a better contingency plan for covering those students and classes.

Messaging to IEP teams. Making sure the right people are in an IEP meeting for the duration of the meeting. We’ve been really hammering home the message that the only person that can excuse a member from an IEP meeting is a parent. But sometimes we have reports that the principal directed teachers to go somewhere else. So we have to really train principals on the law, and proper use of the teachers.

In the advocates’ survey, three out of four teachers reported knowing one or more students were not receiving services due to staffing shortages. What can you do about that?

Let’s take the example of a principal taking a special education teacher and sending them to a gen ed class because they need an adult in the room.

As I was telling the principal, that’s when your scheduling needs to be really tight so you have the flexibility to come up with a contingency plan. You know teachers are going to be out. It’s kind of hard to have a contingency plan for four teachers that are out, but one or two, there are ways to get creative. You can split up a gen ed class and integrate them into a few other age-appropriate classes for instruction, or bring them into a large group and do a social emotional learning circle that addresses a current academic issue.

Your first or second solution should not be going to the special ed teacher.

A lot of the inquiry boils down to this: students who have needs being delayed or denied services. Do you see that’s still the case at CPS from what you can tell so far?

Issues of delays and denials of services — such as paraprofessional assistance, separate day school, transportation — those have dissipated some. From the data we’ve pulled and from the feedback from schools and parents, those are not nearly as big an issue as they were before, primarily because those blocks that were put on the electronic system were lifted.

Before, the only way transportation could be added to an IEP was if a district rep was there to approve it, and that’s no longer the case. Most of the power has gone back into the hands of the IEP teams, which is exactly what the public inquiry recommended.

What should the student-specific corrective action process look like, and how does it compare with what’s going on now?

We’ve been discussing this process with an office within the U.S. Department of Education. One thing they have been very clear on is that IEP teams need to be front and center of that decision. They’re the ones on the front lines with these students, so the Education Department is insistent that the IEP teams are involved when we’re talking about sending notices out to families, alerting them that you may have a child affected by the public inquiry.

That leads us to identifying who that class of students is, and then after we have those families and students identified, that’s when the IEP team comes in to say, “Yes, we do know there was a delay or break in services — what was the harm to that student?”

We hope to provide them with a set of instructions, like, “Here are the talking points, and if you find the student was harmed, here’s a menu of remedies that would be appropriate.”

Those are the conversations we’re working through right now with the department of education, CPS, the advocate representatives, and ISBE. As you can imagine, those are some pretty hefty and lengthy conversations. We’re all trying to get on the same page, and all trying to come to an agreement about what that would look like. But also, what’s fiscally responsible?

This is a three-year process. What should parents and students expect to happen between now and the end of the school year?

We’re holding schools more accountable now and we have them on our radar.

There’s going to be a lot more eye-opening information that emerges from this role, and it’s the first time it’s really been done in this way. This is truly a way for one person to explore CPS through the special education lens like nobody has ever done before. I find that really exciting.


after parkland

Findings are mixed from Tennessee’s first-ever security review of all public schools

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Sumner County Schools safety coordinator Katie Brown and Lt. Billy Vahldiek of Gallatin police examine the window pane in a school hallway to make sure the glass is shatter-resistant. The review team is one of more than a hundred across the state who conducted security assessments over the summer of every Tennessee public school.

Tennessee schools meet or exceed most national safety standards for buildings and operations, but there are weak spots too that must be addressed, according to the findings of the state’s first-ever comprehensive security review of all of its public campuses.

Those weak spots include surveillance and controlling building access and the flow of vehicles, says a report released on Wednesday by the state education department.

And while schools conducted an average of 15 safety drills last year for emergencies such as fires, earthquakes, or intruders, the review revealed that many are still not meeting all of the state’s drill requirements.

The report culminates seven months of scrutiny of more than 1,800 school campuses statewide to assess security risks to students and staff. Gov. Bill Haslam ordered the unprecedented assessment in March following a shooting a month earlier at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.

In conjunction with the work, Tennessee disbursed an extra $25 million in one-time funding to help schools address vulnerabilities and risks that were expected to be uncovered, as well as $10 million in recurring grant money for ongoing safety and prevention programs. The money — which Haslam acknowledged was modest given the scope of the need — already is being used in all 147 districts to make improvements ranging from upgrading door locks and updating visitor screening procedures to hiring more school resource officers and mental health professionals.

Tennessee’s largest district received an extra $3.5 million to bolster safety. Here’s how it’s spending it.

To receive the extra resources, districts had to assess their campuses and submit each school’s review, emergency operation plan, and drill logs to the state. Those on-site reviews were handled by local two-person teams from safety and law enforcement who were trained to complete an 89-point checklist of risks and precautions based on national standards. (Here’s what the process looked like.)

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, whose department spearheaded the review along with the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, called the work a good start toward a more vigilant climate to safeguard school communities.

“We know that safety must be an ongoing process of continuous improvement,” she said in a statement.

Toward that end, the state is developing its own checklist of priorities to help districts and schools harden and support their campuses. It’s revising templates of drill logs and emergency operation plans to help schools better plan and document those activities. And it’s creating training and guidance options to help districts build capacity.

You can view the full report here.