Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The New Untouchables

When I hear the word "untouchables," I think of two things: the 1987 movie starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, and the term for people in India who lived at the bottom of the caste system.

Now I have a third association with this word, and it's not a good one.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine - a science teacher - came down to my end of the building and shot the breeze with me a bit. He has lived all over the world, and he likes to come to my classroom to ogle my 8' x 13' map on my wall. We were discussing the rapid deterioration of the behavior of many of our students. He told me that one cause of our behavior problems was from a hard-core group of students about whom he talked with the VP in charge of discipline. The VP told him that this small group of students - about 5 of them - were "untouchable." Word had come down from on high (the District Office, or D.O.) that they couldn't be expelled, they couldn't be suspended, they could not be disciplined in any meaningful way. When I asked why, my colleague didn't know exactly. Our best guess was that these students are special ed, and it is written into their Individual Education Plan (IEP) that their bad behavior is caused by their disability.

Fast forward to my bus duty after school today. As I was standing in the big parking area where the buses were lined up, I kept hearing a student in one of the buses yell to another student somewhere, "So-and-so is a bitch!" Then he yelled it again.

Over the eons, teachers have learned that if we want to catch a student doing something he shouldn't, you must first act like you don't see or hear what he is up to, but all the while, you are watching him out of the corner of your eye, waiting to get the visual and/or audio proof you need to nail him. That is what I did in this situation. When he yelled it a second time, I didn't snap my head in his direction and fruitlessly scan the bus windows; instead, I nonchalantly went about my business, but turned my body slightly toward the bus, so I could watch it out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough, a few seconds later, the kid leaned out the window and again let loose with, "So-and-so is a bitch," and then he punctuated this statement with an obscene flickering of his tongue. That was all I needed. I ran up to the bus driver and told her I needed to remove a student. I went to the window at which he was sitting and motioned for him to leave the bus. I then went to the bus door and waited for the kid to come out. Upon his exit, the kid pulled the old, "What did I do?" routine. I told him, "You can't act like that on the bus; you will have to call someone for a ride home."

As we walked toward the admin building, I asked the kid his name, and he said in a faux Hispanic accent, "You can call me 'Chinchito,'" or something to that effect. I asked him two more times what his name was, but all he would say was, "Don't worry about it." I told him that refusing to identify yourself to a staff member would get you a referral and a possible suspension, to which he replied, "I don't care, I hate this school." As we got closer to the admin building, the kid started getting more agitated and began telling me that he was going to go home and wasn't going to follow me to the VP's office. "Besides," he said, "It's after school; you can't do anything to me anyway." So many of our students don't realize that they are under our rules until they get home from school.

The whole walk from the bus to the VP's office, this kid seemed totally and utterly unconcerned about any consequences for what he did on the bus, how he was talking to me, or even what would happen to him when he had to call home to get a ride because he got kicked off the bus. I was soon to find out the source of his non-concern.

We reached the VP's office, and I told the kid to have a seat outside the door. The VP was standing right there, and when he saw who I brought in, he got the strangest look on his face. I told the VP, "I removed him from the bus for doing some nasty stuff, but I don't know who he is because he refused to identify himself."

The VP motioned me to our copy room, and what he told me about made my jaw drop. Rumor was about to become reality. The VP told me, "His name is ******. I can't do anything to him. His IEP says that the way he acts is because of his disability, so once he reaches ten days of suspension for the school year, we can't suspend him anymore. He reached ten days quite a while ago." I interrupted and said, "Is he one of these 'untouchables' that I have heard about?" The VP nodded his head, and I said, "So the rumor is true?" The VP said, "Yep, the rumor is true. The D.O. says we can't touch him."

People ask what is wrong with our educational system in this country? Right there is Exhibit A. When people find out I am a teacher, they often ask me what can be done to fix our educational system, and my primary answer is that we need to return to the concept that to receive a public education is a privilege, not a right.

Teachers, and more importantly, other students must endure disruptive, disrespectful, and dysfunctional kids like this in our classrooms because according to the California Education Code, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, this kid is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Entitled, mind you. That must change.

I don't give a rip if this kid's behavior is caused by some disability. That means little to the students, the parents of the other students, and staff who must endure his disruptions. If his behavior is so out-of-control that he has become an "untouchable," then that means he needs to go elsewhere, to a special school that is designed to take on kids like him.

Instead, the situation with which we are currently presented regarding kids like this, and others like him, is sheer and utter madness. Only politicians and bureaucrats - especially ones who have never spent any significant time in your typical public school - could come up with a byzantine educational system such as ours.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


woodes34 said...

Dear W.R.,

This post has sickened me. I taught in the Natomas area for 17 years and remember similar sorts of behavior, but at least we had some feeble attempts to correct it from the admin. My wife and I are now teaching internationally and are blessed to no longer deal with this sort of crap.

Good luck with the fight. There are many of us out here who follow you!

Anonymous said...

Um....as a sped teacher, I need to tell you that this is bogus. The admin is ducking responsibility. I personally have participated in manifestation hearings (what is required after ten days of suspension) and the key point is that the manifestation hearing is meant to look at whether the school has been appropriately accommodating for the student's disability in the least restrictive environment.

In only one case did the manifestation hearing not lead to an expulsion. And, in that case, it became the tool we needed to discuss further issues with the parents and appropriately deal with the kid.

So yeah...admin failure. Lazy admin. Sadly, I've had experience with such as well.

Staying anonymous to protect myself, sadly.

3rseduc / handsinthesoil said...

I know a special ed teacher who has a student who has threatened lives, thrown desks and rocks and sharp sticks at students, stalked them home, set the school on fire...and he is on an IEP so he stays. I am not against IEPs but what happens when they get out of school, as an adult? They will have learned no responsibility for their behavior. If my students with aspergers must learn social skills, so must these kids learn to control themselves. They are putting the 100 - 4,000 other student's safety and education at risk. In a time of being p.c. and lovey dovey...we need to have consequences as life is not all p.c. and lovey dovey.
In my own experience, I had a student who was a drug passer- not the dealer or consumer but the in-between. He was caught in an on campus drug deal and all but him here expelled. Why was he not expelled? While his IEP mentions nothing of behavior, only academics, our school didn't want to "risk it", with budget cuts, we could not afford a trial or hearing when the mom took us to court over IEP issues- even though we'd win, we'd lose precious $. So he is still enrolled in our school.

Jim said...

As a California school admin, I'll tell you Anonymous is right- your admin are ducking their responsibility. You CAN suspend/expel SpEd kids, though it does take time and documentation.
Best of luck to you.

Mr. W said...

At our Saturday morning work detention last year I had a student not working. I kept telling the student to work, all the student would do is talk and distract others.

Finally I said, you're going home. The student said no and pleaded to stay. I said nope I'm tired of talking to you. The student then put out their arms pretended to show a bomb on their chest and pushed their thumbs down like triggers and said boom.

Of course, I'm not going to let anyone even pretend to blow me up. I talked to the counselor on Monday. I was informed the student was special ed and that was just "the nature of the student", but it's not serious. Isn't that what you always here after someone goes nuts and kills a bunch of people?

Funny part, the student gets talked to by the counselor, school psychologist, VP, and principal about that behavior being unacceptable. After the student was done with all of those "talks", the student went to another teachers room (that was there next to me on Saturday) and told him, "I'm gonna blow you up too"

Let's here it for counseling.

mrelliott said...

At least the administrator acknowledged that the kid was untouchable, and it wasn't because you lack "managing" skills, as I've seen happen too often.

It's not just special ed kids either. I've seen intelligent, kids from supportive, upper-middle class families who are cocky, and out of control because daddy is a lawyer and throws his weight around with the district office.

BTW, our administrative team began to refer to the teachers at my school as "advocates", not educators.

Heather said...

As a SpEd professional myself, this is crap. There needs to be a manifest meeting to determine if this kid's behavior is part of his disability or not. My guess is that this kid (or his parents or both) have learned to play the system and the admin is letting them get away with it. Consequences still need to be put in place regardless of a disability or not.

Ellen K said...

I've been dealing with kids with IEP's for years now. If a student demonstrates that they are overrunning their IEP, by taking advantage of it, you as a teacher have the power to call an ARD. I would get whatever union or teacher's group to verify this. Too many parents run to their pediatricians to get bogus diagnosis to get kids exonerated from acceptable behavior. This should never happen. That all being said, it won't be easy. What I do is I have an index card for every student with an IEP or 504. When I have to redirect, write them up, note missing lessons or call parents, it goes on the card. The beauty of a card is that the school can't access it online without your permission. Be very to the point, remove yourself emotionally and note where the student's IEP is no longer serving them. The umbrella of Special Education has become a source of bullying as well as an economic rathole. There are students who legitimately need special services-they should not be deprived. But there are five times more kids who have parents and administration making excuses for their bad and sometimes dangerous behavior. Even after Columbine there were those who wanted to make this about bullying. Stay strong and DOCUMENT DOCUMENT DOCUMENT

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lollever said...

I told the kid to have a seat outside the door. The VP was standing right there, and when he saw who I brought in, he got the strangest look on his faceLOL Account

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