Education, Teachers — January 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Another EAA teacher speaks out about student abuse and violations of federal law in the treatment of students


NOTE: My reporting on the Education Achievement Authority involves multiple posts. You can read all of my coverage of the EAA by clicking HERE.

EAA Chancellor John Covington released a report of his personal investigation into the allegations in my reporting which you can read about HERE.

As I pointed out earlier today, the response from the Education Achievement Authority to my reporting on the egregious situation in EAA schools was to attack me as not legitimate since I was protecting the identities of the teachers I spoke with for my piece titled “Education Achievement Authority teachers speak out on abuse of students and the failure of the EAA”.

The teachers only spoke to me with a guarantee that I would protect their identities because of a justifiable fear that they would be sacked or face some other retribution if they were found out. This is not their fault, it is the fault of the EAA administration for creating a culture that protects the organization and puts teachers and other employees in a position of toeing the line or … else.

Today, I received an anonymous email from another EAA teacher, this one a special education teacher who left the EAA. Like the other teachers I have spoken with, they wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution or retaliation from EAA administrators.

What follows is their description of what they observed and experienced as a special education teacher in the EAA. While EAA spokesperson Terry Abbott and his superiors may be content to write off my reporting because there is no name to go with the stories that are being told, that doesn’t change the fact that these are people who are stepping up because they care about students and can’t bear the thought of this flawed and failed education model being promulgated throughout the state. I can’t imagine what motivation anyone would have for making up stories like this and, given that these accounts support each other, I have no reason not to believe that they are true, that they should be taken seriously and, at the very least, are worthy of a full-scale investigation.

One of the most troubling things in this account and in the accounts of the teachers in my original piece is their statements that they made complaints about abuse and about laws being violated and nothing was done about them. This flies in the face of EAA spokesperson Terry Abbott’s claim that “the serious allegations of what amounts to criminal activity has never been reported to administrators”. This appears to be completely untrue.

I was a special education teacher with the EAA. I gave IEPs to all of the teachers I worked with, but I had a caseload that was above the legal limit (it varied, but at one point I had 32 kids on my caseload. Well above the limit.) I tried and tried to pull kids from their classes or push into the classes they were in, but there was no way I could get to every kid for their required hours as stated on their IEP. There were not enough hours in the school day for me to get to everyone and I was angry about that everyday. The Buzz platform was set up in such a way that the special education teachers couldn’t access it: if I wanted to modify work or swap out assignments, I had to ask the general education teacher to do that for me. Which didn’t matter because I was never able to see what they were doing in Buzz due to the fact I never had a common planning time with any teacher.

Special education students also have special discipline procedures. A students with special needs cannot be suspended for more than 10 days. After 10 days, we have a manifestation determination meeting to determine if the behavior that they were suspended for is a manifestation of their disability and make adjustments (a behavior plan, schedule changes, etc.) The federal law is very clear about this. Some administrators didn’t think the federal applied to them. I had administrators suspending my students and not putting it into the system and hiding the paperwork from me, or they would put fewer days into the system than the student was actually suspended for. They also sent kids home to ‘think about it’, but that is a suspension in the eyes of the law and counts toward those 10 days. They had discussions with parents to convince them to take their students to another school. I’d write behavior plans (which must be followed, it’s the law) and no one would follow them. Administrators would tell me that there was no point in writing the behavior plan, because there were going to get rid of the kid.

There were no alternatives to suspension like detentions or in school suspension programs. So when the board said ‘stop suspending so many kids’ they would just leave them in school with no consequences. The EAA paid for all teachers and administrators to have conflict resolution training, which no one uses. When we tried to introduce Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), the administrators and many teachers wouldn’t buy into it, so it was never very successful. The lower elementary teachers did and many of them saw great successes with the program.

While I never witnessed physical abuse, it was talked about. I would sometimes see a student run from the principal’s office acting in a way that made wonder what had actually happened in that room. I never saw anything with my own eyes. But some of classroom teachers I worked with would tell me that kids would come back from the office with red palms and lower arms. Many of the lower elementary teachers I worked with simply stopped sending students to the office because they were afraid of what might happen to them.

I tried to convince Dr. Esselman that we needed district wide CPI training (non-violent crisis prevention which also comes with training on how to restrain a student if necessary) so that staff could learn how to de escalate behavior before it got the point of violence and how to restrain a violent student in a way that would not hurt the student or staff member (to be used as a last resort). I stressed to her the importance of at least the special education teachers being trained (which is a requirement in most districts). That training was never provided.

Michigan has very clear policy on the use of seclusion and restraint. I witnessed teachers throwing students to the floor and sitting on them, bending their arms behind them, slamming them into lockers, and pinning them against walls (all illegal according to the Michigan Standards for the Use of Emergency Seclusion and Restraint). No one seemed to understand that students can get seriously hurt and that kids have even died in some of those restraints. No CPI training was ever provided and my building administrators defended those teachers when I brought this up(though if a parent brought a lawsuit, the state of Michigan would not. They’d lose their license). I resorted to leaving the manual in the offices. I don’t think anyone ever read it. Reporting things never seemed to help. When anyone would report things, we’d have an emergency staff meeting where we would basically be told to keep our nose out of other people’s business or that what we thought we saw was not what we really saw. The EAA takes advantage of the fact that many of these parents aren’t aware of their rights.

I left because as a special education teacher, I knew that their special education program was violating the law. The treatment of students was making me sick. For my own professional reputation and mental health, I had to stop working there. I miss the kids. I worry about them.