A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
COOPERSVILLE, Mich. – A Coopersville, Michigan kindergarten teacher is standing up to the Michigan Education Association over her right to opt out of the union, despite union threats to destroy her credit.
Miriam Chanski, 24, attempted to drop out of the MEA teachers union this May after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder approved legislation making Michigan a right-to-work state. But Chanski toldWZZMtelevision station the union responded with a letter two months later rejecting her request.
The MEA, like most teachers unions, only allows members a very small window of time to drop their memberships each year – for the MEA it’s the month of August – and requires specific paperwork to complete the request. Most teachers are unaware of the technical process, and Chanski is no exception.
Chanski is now embroiled in a legal battle to win her freedom from the MEA.
At least seven other Michigan teachers were also unaware of the union drop policy, and are also suing for their freedom.
The ridiculous rules are obviously designed to prevent members from leaving, but teachers unions also use other tactics to keep members in line.
“In September, the president of our union came into my classroom before school and told me she was aware I wanted to opt out of the union and asked if I had sent in another form in August,” Chanski told WZZM. “I told her I was unaware of another form to send in, I was unaware of the August dates, and she told me at that point if I had not sent in that form, I might have missed my chance to opt out of the union.”
The local union president then allegedly threatened to turn the teacher in to a collection agency and ruin her credit if she didn’t pay her union dues, Chanski told the television station.
Chanski said the bottom line is “I chose to opt out and it’s not being honored.”
Chanski and the other teachers suing the MEA for their freedom are beacons of hope in an education system rife with bureaucratic red tape and nonsensical union rules. While Chanski certainly isn’t the first teacher to be threatened and intimidated into paying for union services she never asked for, her story serves as an inspiration for other teachers who have been bullied by their unions.
Right-to-work laws mean employees are not required to join a labor union as a condition of employment, and the union’s insistence on playing petty games to keep members enrolled is not winning them any fans.
What are the unions proving by holding their unhappy members captive? Nobody should be forced to belong to any organization against their will.
Governor Mike Pence, in his continuing efforts to make sure that the duly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is stripped of her constitutional authority as chair of the state board of education, has encouraged the state board to hold secret meetings when Ritz was not present.
At a recent meeting, the Pence board voted to transfer authority over the A-F grading system from the board to the state legislature. This is the same grading system that was created and manipulated by former Superintendent Tony Bennett to protect the charter school of a campaign contributor.
Superintendent Ritz issued the following press release today:
INDIANA SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION GLENDA RITZ FILES SUIT AGAINST GOVERNOR PENCE’S STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
INDIANAPOLIS – In response to apparent violations of the Open Door Law by members of the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed suit today naming ten members of the Board as defendants. The lawsuit alleges that the named members of the State Board violated Indiana’s Open Door Law by taking action in secret by drafting, or directing the drafting of, a letter they sent to President Pro Tempore Long and Speaker Bosma dated October 16, 2013. The suit seeks to prevent the State Board of Education from continued violations of the Open Door Law and declaratory relief.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that ten members of the State Board violated Indiana’s Open Door Law when they took action by requesting that Senator Long and Speaker Bosma appoint Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency to perform calculations to determine the 2012-2013 A-F grades for Indiana schools. The suit alleges that no public notice was issued for a meeting that allowed for this action and that Superintendent Ritz was not made aware of this action until after it was taken, despite her role as Chair of the State Board of Education.
“When I was sworn in to office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana,” said Superintendent Ritz. “I take this oath very seriously and I was dismayed to learn that other members of the State Board have not complied with the requirements of the law. While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds.
“Since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the Board and the public. I do not take this action lightly, but my obligations as elected state Superintendent require it. I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner.”
The suit is Ritz v. Elsener, et al and it has been filed in the Marion Circuit Court. The cause number is 49C01-1310-PL-038953. The Department of Education is using in-house counsel to avoid any additional costs to the state.
As the search forAvonte Oquendoapproaches week three, with police trying a new tactic—playing a recording of his motherout of emergency response vehicles in hopes the nonverbal autistic teen will hear it—questions mount over how he could have bolted from his Queens school. Meanwhile, advocates have begun searching for ways to ensure that such an incident doesn't happen again.
Avonte's brother, Daniel Oquendo—who has taken a leadership role in the search effort—met yesterday withGary Mayerson, a Manhattan civil rights attorney concentrating on autism, to discuss the status of the investigation and security measures that should be implemented. (Autism Speaksand Mayerson & Associates have contributed toward the $70,000 reward money for Avonte's safe return.)
"I couldn't blame Daniel for being entirely absorbed in his brother's plight," Mayerson says, "but he's not. He's able to look outward to do good and protect other students going forward.
Mayerson outlines three layers of protection. First, there is the student's Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The attorney says a student like the nonverbal Avonte, a known wanderer who has been found in subway tunnels in the past, should have had goals and objectives on his IEP to deal with that issue, which would have included his own aide at the Riverview School. Instead, Avonte was placed in a classroom with one teacher, one aide, and six students. (Wandering, also called eloping or bolting, is a common autistic trait.)
The New York City Department of Education was "clearly on notice that he was a bolter," Mayerson says. "There also could have been a special alerts section saying that he has a history of bolting that is potentially dangerous or life-threatening and he probably does not understand the danger" of leaving school.
Beth Glidden Andersen, who blogs atMaternal Instinctsabout her 9-year-old son, Nik, who has multiple disabilities including nonverbal autism, agrees with Mayerson's assessment. She commented on Facebook that given that Avonte was known to elope, "there should have been 1:1 supervision full-time.
"There is so much we don't know about Avonte and how he, specifically, functioned in his school environment," she wrote. "My son has many of the characteristics attributed to Avonte; at school he has more independence than he would if we were out in public. But that's because his school is exclusively special-needs students and everyone knows him. They give him opportunities to develop skills in a safe environment."
Mayerson's second point: Avonte's IEP should have had a behavior intervention plan that would tell teachers what to do if he went for the door of the classroom, let alone the school building. Finally, there have to be much-improved security measures in place. "There should be protocols so that people who are leaving the building have the legitimate authority to do so," he says.
The Riverview School—a special-needs program—shares space with a middle school and a high school with typically developing students. The schools share common spaces, including auditoriums, gymnasiums, libraries, and cafeterias. It's believed that Avonte eloped while transitioning between lunch and the classroom.
Mayerson disagrees with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly'sexoneration of the school safety officerwho saw Avonte before he bolted. Kelly said they looked at the security videotape and "she directs the young man to go back upstairs [when] he's just at the front door. He goes down the hall and actually exits the building from a side door. You see nothing after this juncture that shows the conduct of the school safety agent was inappropriate or there was any misconduct involved."
But the Oquendo family's attorney, David Perecman, questioned why a side door would be unlocked and unguarded in a school with autistic students. Not only that, "it's an omission issue," Mayerson says. "It's what she didn't do after challenging Avonte and saying 'Where are you going?' She doesn't say, 'Wait a minute, what if this is one of those nonverbal kids?'" In other words, was it simply enough to tell Avonte to stay and to not have some one follow him back to his classroom?
Jennifer Aronson Sellar has had experience with schools like Avonte's: Her nonverbal 7-year-old son, Hugo, who has multiple disabilities including an autism diagnosis, attends such a setting in Brooklyn. She wrote on Facebook that the bigger issue of schools like Riverview is whether staff outside the special-needs program understands the kids' needs. "Very few people even know what elopement is and that this population is at risk for escape," she writes. "I doubt the guard had any knowledge or training for this particular population."
Also yesterday, advocates at aGoogle hangoutpresented byICare4Autism(The International Center for Autism Research and Education) echoed Mayerson's thoughts. Dr. Joshua Weinstein, the founder of ICare4Autism andHear Our Voices, a school for autistic children in Brooklyn, said his school has cameras inside and outside the building and in the classrooms, as well as "panic doors" that sound an alarm if a child runs out. He adds that there's always an instructor with each student, walking them in and out of the school, going from activity to activity, and during fire drills, lockdowns, and outings.
Weinstein advises parents to find out what the safety procedures are at their children's schools, especially if there's inclusion and a wide span of grades. If they find fault with the plan, they need to advocate for change. He adds that the public needs to be aware of autistic behavior, including wandering, and be able to respond and notify the authorities.
Stephen Mark Shore, an ICare4Autism board member and himself on the spectrum, added, "We need to educate both the individual with autism on how to be safe as well as first responders who may encounter someone with autism." Shore has helped the New York Police Department produce a training video so that first responders may better know how to interact with autistic children, teens, and adults.
He also cited the work done by Dennis Debbaudt ofAutism Risk & Safety Management, which offers autism training and resources for law enforcement and emergency first responders, as well as parents, educators, and the autism community. For instance, Debbaudt has anautism emergency planon his site to help caregivers; it also includes a contact form to get as much info possible about the bolter quickly into the hands of first responders.
As for the 45 minutes to hour it took before the school notified Avonte's family that he was missing, Sharie Manon, director of strategic alliances for ICare4Autism, said that as a mother she'd rather be called early; if it's a false alarm, so be it. Shore added that it's worth exercising "an abundance of caution. If they find [a child] under the couch, looking for a quiet place, that's a good outcome. And in situations where the child has eloped, the earlier we can get on this, the better off everybody will be."
Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. He is 5-foot-3 and weighs 125 pounds. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Police Department's Crime Stoppers hot line at (800) 577-TIPS.