America's failed special education promise; Maine failing early childhood students; Judge blasts Texas for foster care system
Plus: December's Where is the Manual for This!? cartoon
School and viruses go hand-in-hand, even before COVID-19. In this follow-up to her September comic, Lenore pokes fun at the misconception we all have that school will mean rest for medical mamas and papas. For kids with high needs, the colds and flus they come home with can wreak havoc — or worse. With winter break coming up, they’ll get good and healthy… just in time to go back!
On the second Sunday of every month, we feature Where is the Manual for This?!, an editorial cartoon about the medical mom life from Lenore Eklund.
Medical Motherhood’s news roundup
Snippets of news and opinion from outlets around the world. Click the links for the full story.
• From Mother Jones: “How America’s Broken Promise to Millions of Students Became the Status Quo”
Despite studies showing that almost all students with disabilities are capable of graduating high school in four years if given the right resources, only about seven in 10 of the 7.2 million public school students receiving disability program support do graduate—far below the 86.5 percent rate for American students overall. “I couldn’t help my students reach the outcomes and the things they wanted to achieve,” says [former elementary teacher Kimberly] Knackstedt, who left the classroom nearly a decade ago to work in education policy and disability advocacy. “I didn’t feel, as one person, as one young teacher, that I could actually make a difference.”
How did we end up with a system that teachers, students, parents, and state and federal governments have declared to be broken? Teachers have long made improvements for students with disabilities a linchpin of their unions’ collective bargaining demands. Parents of children with conditions ranging from dyslexia to autism to hearing disabilities have filed huge numbers of complaints with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging everything from insufficient services to excessive force and problems with service animals. Those complaints have led to more than 2,500 currently open investigations—some of which have been unresolved for over a decade.
The pandemic only worsened the situation: Students with disabilities lost more ground on test scores and graduation rates than general-education students. Ever since, notoriously low-paying positions for teachers of students with disabilities have been especially hard to fill, leaving in a lurch the nearly one in six students who qualify for such services. This year, the DOE declared that more than half of the states are failing to meet federal Special Education program requirements.
At the root of this overall failure is a lack of funding from the federal government: Teachers’ calls for greater resources repeatedly go unheeded, while parents are left to grapple with denied services. States and school districts have been found to mistreat students and misuse funds. And from New York to Washington state, lax laws have allowed public dollars to flow to private companies that turn a large profit while failing and even abusing students.
[…]The money problem is actually twofold: It isn’t just that there’s not enough of it, it’s also that the money’s not going where it is needed most. In a recent study, Kolbe and fellow researchers Elizabeth Dhuey and Sara Menlove Doutre proved that even the small amount of federal funding for disabled students that is released annually is disbursed in a wildly inequitable manner.
[…]Financial inequities aren’t baked into just the current funding formula; they’re also baked into the law itself. When IDEA was passed, it placed a large responsibility on parents, leaving them to challenge or even sue the school district if the parents felt their children’s IEPs were inadequate or not being followed. But such mediation is a time-consuming and sometimes costly process—and families without such resources find themselves without recourse.[…]
• From the Portland Press Herald (Maine): “Maine lawmakers question education chief over failing early childhood program”
Maine lawmakers grilled Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin Tuesday over the state’s failure to support children with disabilities from birth until 6 years old.
Legislators called the Child Development Services agency “broken” and said the lack of appropriate support for the state’s youngest disabled residents is “disturbing.” They grilled Makin on what the department, which oversees Child Development Services, is going to do to get the program back on track.
Federal law requires that children with disabilities receive support so they can access education and succeed in society.
Child Development Services is the state agency responsible for providing those services to young Mainers with disabilities. But it is falling short of meeting its responsibilities, according to recent reports.
Makin appeared before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee Tuesday morning to update lawmakers on a list of recommendations the department plans to publish next year to address the challenges that Child Development Services is facing.
Her update was brief and lacked specifics, and seemed to frustrate committee members.
She said that the agency is facing significant challenges but did not specify what those challenges are or how they are impacting the students they are charged with serving. She broadly pinned the agency’s issues on its structure.
Tuesday’s meeting came less than a month after 96% of Child Development Services employees voted that they have no confidence in the agency’s director, Roberta Lucas, citing toxic work environments and long waits for children who need services.
[…]The agency is facing an enormous staffing shortage.
In the 2022 fiscal year the average caseload for a Child Development Services case manager working with children ages 3 through 5 was 158 children, according to information from the agency’s 2023 report to the Legislature.
They’re only expected to manage 80, according to the agency. That means caseworkers last year were doing the work of two people on average. At minimum, they had 111 children.
[…]Audits also show that in recent years child outcomes have declined.
In the 2015 fiscal year, 49% of children ages 3 to 6 leaving Child Development Services had age appropriate social-emotional skills, 51% had age appropriate language, literacy and knowledge acquisition skills and 67% used age appropriate behaviors to have their needs met.
In the 2020 fiscal year, the latest year for which data is publicly available, each category dropped by more than 10 percentage points, down to 35%, 36% and 52%, respectively. The drop was similar in the younger children.
The issues Child Development Services is facing are not new, but employees, advocates, legislators and service providers say the agency has gotten much worse in recent years and that something needs to change.[…]
• From the Dallas-Morning News vis the Register Herald: “Judge lashes Texas for failing to protect mentally disabled foster children”
A federal judge on Monday blasted the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for turning a blind eye to what she described as horrid living conditions for foster children with intellectual disabilities.
U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack pointed to the plight of a teenage girl in a group home in Grand Prairie who made a dozen outcries of maltreatment but was all but ignored by the commission’s Provider Investigations unit.
The disabled children receiving community-based services from Texas Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor that covers almost all foster kids, were “placed in the most appalling conditions of any we’ve seen in this case,” Jack said at a hearing on whether to hold the state in contempt of court.
Jack ripped into Stephen Pahl, the commission’s deputy executive commissioner for regulatory services, who was called to testify by lawyers for about 8,000 children in long-term foster care.
[…]The hearing, expected to last several days, comes as the lawsuit, filed in 2011, continues to vex Abbott, a three-term GOP governor, and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Lawmakers have been forced to increase funding of the Department of Family and Protective Services, which basically serves as parents for about 8,000 children in the state’s “permanent managing conservatorship,” and of the Health and Human Services Commission, which regulates foster-care providers.
[…]Dozens of states and counties in states where child welfare is a county responsibility have been sued by Children’s Rights, whose founder, Marcia Robinson Lowry, devised the legal strategy of using the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit “warehousing” of youth in unsafe conditions.
In some instances, the defendant state and local governments have remained under court scrutiny for decades.
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