Friday, May 31, 2019

Outside Expert Sought To Evaluate School Bus Driver Charged with Sexual Assault

The lawyer defending a former Montgomery County school bus driver accused of sexually abusing four students is rejecting the state’s finding that his client is competent to stand trial.
Etienne Kabongo, 62, of Gaithersburg, is charged with one count each of sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree rape and third-degree sexual-offense stemming from a July 2018 incident involving a 12-year-old girl.
Further investigation uncovered three other alleged assaults against students.
Defense attorney Jim Shalleck requested a state psychiatric evaluation of Kabongo in January and said he planned to pursue an insanity defense.

The state Department of Health found Kabongo competent to stand trial in a May 10 report, but at a Thursday morning hearing, Shalleck disputed the findings and said he is searching for an outside expert to evaluate his client...

Teachers Rally for More Pay During Extended School Year Program

Teachers from Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix elementary schools packed Thursday night’s county school board meeting and voiced frustration over what they believe are unfair contracts for working during a longer school year program.
“MCPS should sprint back to the negotiating table with (the teachers’ union) … and make the teachers feel heard, appreciated and respected,” said Michelle Perez, mother of a kindergarten student at Arcola. “Instead of feeling stressed, teachers should feel celebrated and supported as they embark on new exciting, innovating school year.”..

MCPS Among Those Affected by Data Breach on Exam Registration Website

Names, phone numbers, birthdays and last four digits of Social Security numbers were among the exposed elements

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Seneca Valley HS: ...the largest high school in Maryland

and that's a good thing?

MCPS Communication App in Limbo

The future of a proposal to develop a “communication app” for the Montgomery school system is uncertain as school staff consider concerns about the legality and “technical feasibility” of the idea.
At issue is whether the school system can legally create an “opt-out” communication system that would send alerts to families about everything from weather-related closings to community meetings.
In a memo to school board members, Superintendent Jack Smith said federal regulations restrict school districts from sending automated text messages without prior consent. The school system currently allows families to “opt-in” by giving prior consent to receive emergency alerts via text message and email, while the new system would automatically enroll families while giving them the option to remove themselves from the communications list.
The federal regulation Smith cites lists two exceptions for which automated communications can be sent without consent, including “emergency purposes” and communications that “while not for emergency purposes, are closely related to the educational mission of the school, such as notification of an upcoming teacher conference or general school activity.”

A resolution introduced by District 2 school board member Rebecca Smondrowski that would direct the school system to develop and implement the app, was expected to receive a final vote at the board’s May 14 meeting, but was tabled so board members could conduct more research. It is expected to go back before the board at Thursday’s meeting...

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Montgomery Co. music teacher arrested on child porn charges

A Bethesda, Maryland, music teacher who gave private lessons from his home was arrested Thursday for possession of child pornography.
Charles Victor Kopfstein-Penk, 74, is charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography after a monthslong investigation by the Maryland State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The investigation started in February and led officials to Kopfstein-Penk, who was allegedly actively searching to get child pornography files.
A search warrant and a preliminary review of his devices showed that he did in fact have such files. His devices were seized, and the Maryland State Police Digital Forensics Laboratory will analyze them.
Maryland State Police and Homeland Security Investigations arrested Kopfstein-Penk without incident. He was taken to Maryland State Police Rockville Barrack for processing.
Kopfstein-Penk gave music lessons to people of all ages...

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Victims of Larry Nassar Who Dared to Come Forward First

Article in The New Yorker, by Eren Orbey. Full article here.

In the summer of 2016, Rachael Denhollander was scrolling through Facebook at her home in Louisville, Kentucky, when she happened upon the cover story of the day’s Indianapolis Star. It was an investigation into U.S.A. Gymnastics, one of the nation’s most prominent Olympic organizations, concluding that for years the federation’s top officials had mishandled allegations of sexual abuse. Denhollander, a lawyer, a devout Christian, and a mother of four, had competed as a gymnast during her high-school years in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as she explains on “Believed,” a podcast from Michigan Radio and NPR that was released last fall. In 2000, when she was fifteen, her mother managed to nab her physical-therapy sessions with Larry Nassar, the celebrated physician for the women’s national team. During their visits to his clinic, Nassar would drape a sheet over Denhollander’s body and, standing so as to obstruct his movements from her mother, slip his hands beneath the teen-ager’s bra and shorts. Denhollander eventually told her mother about Nassar’s actions; both women agreed that no one would believe a club-level athlete from Kalamazoo over an Olympic doctor. Over the next sixteen years, though, Denhollander assembled her own makeshift case file, saving diary entries from her youth alongside medical records from her visits to Nassar, notes from her therapist, and research from pelvic-rehabilitation practitioners about the proper protocol of the doctor’s invasive treatments. When Denhollander finished reading the Indy Star article, she noticed that it included the number of a tip line.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Board of Education to hand out meaningless diplomas during the next several weeks

Note:  The following article is based largely on information that an internal MCPS source leaked to the Washington Post without authorization.

Washington Post: Can you skip 47 days of English class and still graduate? At this Montgomery County high school, yes.

As graduation approached last year, the list of often-absent students at Albert Einstein High School in suburban Maryland was long. More than 175 seniors repeatedly missed classes, many in courses required for their diplomas.
Most students at the Montgomery County school graduated anyway.
Entire article at:

Excerpts from article:

Longtime Einstein Principal James G. Fernandez, who recently announced his retirement, declined to speak about absences or related issues, school system officials said.

At Magruder High School in Derwood, 43 percent of high school students were chronically absent, the county’s highest.

The documents obtained by The Post show that 115 Einstein seniors were frequently absent in math courses and that at least 88 missed senior-year English classes required for a diploma. Others were often out during science, social studies, art, physical education or Advanced Placement classes that may — or may not — have been required for graduation.

Some teachers see the fallout in the Montgomery County graduates who arrive at Montgomery College unprepared every year. Nearly 70 percent of those students in 2018 needed to take remedial classes in math and 37 percent in English, college officials said.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Money for 12 New School Nurses Fails To Make Final County Budget

From Bethesda Magazine. For the whole story go here. Yellow highlight my own.

Next year’s $5.8 billion Montgomery County budget will not include funding for a dozen new school nurses.

Attempts by the County Council to put $1.2 million in the budget as it debated spending priorities last week didn’t pass although $200,000 was approved for two mental health therapists to serve two schools each.

The council also approved more than $75,000 for the Linkages to Learning program, which partners with schools to provide health, social and community support services.
A need for additional mental health services had been a frequent topic raised during public budget forums that the council held in April.

Council member Gabe Albornoz, who chairs the health and human services committee, said the committee spent the last two months deliberating over the budget and the “needs of the community are outpacing the county’s ability to fulfill those needs.”

“We did our best to reconcile the funding and put back some of the funding,” he said. “We’re going to need more revenue and more resources if we’re going to meet the needs of our growing community.”
From the article:
MCPS has a nurse-to-student ratio of 1: 1,660
Prince George's County school system has a nurse-to-student ratio of 1: 693
Baltimore's school system has a nurse-to-student ratio of 1: 647

"we filed public record requests for more specific data regarding MCPS grades and sent emails to multiple college counselors requesting an interview about the subject; however, all of these requests did not receive a reply."

Grade A Scandal: MCPS grading policies raise concerns

MCPS has recently come under fire for allegedly inflating the grades of its students by altering the semester grading policy in 2015. The altered policy reversed the former downward trend grade calculation with a quality point mathematical grade calculation, and the number of As and Bs students have received in the ensuing school years has risen exponentially. Whether or not the rise in higher semester grades is an unintended consequence or a deliberate goal of the altered grading system is the mystery this investigation sought to solve.   The Washington Post recently investigated this issue, concluding that MCPS is guilty of grade inflation and urging action to be taken.

Over the course of the past six months, we have looked into numerous sources of information, with our most prominent source being interviews around the local community. We have conducted a total of 42 interviews, many of which feature students, teachers and even school board members. We also looked through online data of MCPS grade trends, MCPS standardized testing score and RM’s school profile for college admissions. Since the issue of grade inflation has also recently come into the spotlight in the news media, we were able to obtain more information from both local and national news outlets. Additionally, we filed public record requests for more specific data regarding MCPS grades and sent emails to multiple college counselors requesting an interview about the subject; however, all of these requests did not receive a reply.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Opinion The SAT’s Bogus ‘Adversity Score’

Between my freshman and senior years of high school in the late ’90s, my father spent his evenings, weekends and vacations drilling my best friend and me for our SATs. My father was born black in the 1930s in the segregated South and became the first member of his family to go to college, let alone graduate school. These were lean years for my family, and my white mother had to return to work after decades as a homemaker. We just managed to rent a small house on the white side of our de facto segregated New Jersey suburb.
My best friend, who was black and Puerto Rican and attended parochial school with me, commuted from a less affluent and more ethnically diverse neighborhood where his parents, who did not have graduate degrees and were divorced but frequently living together and pooling resources, were upwardly mobile homeowners. When the time came to take the test, I scored higher, though my friend did well enough to attend a selective four-year college, where he flourished, eventually moving on to the Ivy League and Wall Street. Both of us worked hard, had some advantages — namely highly supportive and involved parents — and were able to succeed despite being members of a historically oppressed demographic.
I thought of those long hard hours studying at the dinner table when I heard on Thursday that the College Board, the company that administers the SAT, was appending an “adversity index” to aptitude scores — essentially a handicap to standardize “privilege.”
This “overall disadvantage level” will appear on something the College Board is calling an “environmental context dashboard.” It incorporates demographic and census data to profile high school students along a scale, from one to 100, of relative poverty, opportunity and achievement on the SAT in relation to their classmates. A score north of 50 indicates adversity; below that threshold lies privilege. Colleges will see this number, but students will not...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

New Baltimore County school superintendent is Montgomery County educational administrator Darryl Williams

MCPS fires Damascus JV football staff

DAMASCUS – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith told reporters on May 14 that members of the Damascus High School staff have been disciplined to varying degrees in the aftermath of a recent investigation of supervision.
Athletic Director (AD) Joe Doody, junior varsity head coach Vincent Colbert and the entire JV coaching staff were removed from their positions within the school’s athletic department as school officials finalize a two-month investigation.
More than five months have passed since four freshmen on the junior varsity football team were allegedly sexually assaulted with a wooden broomstick by their teammates. The incident occurred in a campus locker room after school on Oct. 31.
Since then, Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant transferred all four suspects, who had been charged as adults, to juvenile court. The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office began an investigation as to whether the rape was an isolated incident.
For nearly two months, MCPS investigated supervisory and reporting practices at Damascus, specifically on the afternoon of the alleged incident. MCPS determined the junior varsity football team was unsupervised between about 2:50 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., during which the alleged victims were apparently sodomized with a broomstick. The JV coaches who would have supervised the players in the locker room were “delayed” in reaching the school but insufficiently informed other coaches of that fact.
The investigation also considered reporting of the incident to the police and to the central office staff...

Monday, May 20, 2019

Fox5 Video: Quince Orchard staff member partied with kids openly drinking alcohol, administrator says

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad…
The Wound Dresser, Walt Whitman 1865

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Kevin Lewis ‏ NEW: A Quince Orchard High School staff member is in trouble after attending a private graduation party where students "openly consumed alcohol and participated in alcohol-related games."

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why would we even try?' Parents of disabled students almost never win in fights against Maryland districts

Why would we even try?' Parents of disabled students almost never win in fights against Maryland districts

It’s rare for the parents of students with disabilities to prevail in legal battles against Maryland school districts. In the past five years, they’ve lost more than 85 percent of the time, state education department documents show, even after investing tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours in pursuit of a better education for their children.
Advocates, families and attorneys say the trend is alarming and discourages people from fighting for the rights kids are guaranteed under federal law.School systems are required to provide and pay for a range of specialized services — anything from speech therapy sessions to tuition at a private facility — to ensure that children with disabilities are properly educated. When parents dispute what’s being offered, they can file a complaint and take their case before a judge.
It’s a draining and complex ordeal that costs families time and energy and leaves their children’s education in flux. In recent years, roughly 100 families have gone through a so-called special education due process hearing. Judges have routinely sided with the school systems.
“I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody,” said Sarah Friedman, a parent who went through due process. “My daughter was let down first by the school system and then by the judicial system.”
Advocates say the odds discourage countless other families — especially low-income families — from attempting to go through with a due process complaint.
“Families see the data, and it’s like, why would we even try?” said Maureen van Stone, director of the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Project HEAL, a medical-legal partnership. “This is not what you want when children with disabilities are guaranteed these rights by federal law.”
Special education due process decisions

Other states avoid such asymmetrical rates. A study examining due process hearings in Texas found districts prevailed in roughly 72 percent of cases from 2011 to 2015. A similar assessment in Massachusetts found school districts won in a little more than halfof the due process hearings over eight years.
Van Stone said she understands “not every case is a winner.” Still, she argues the lopsided success in Maryland should sound alarms.
A representative of the judges who oversee these cases said every judge is impartial and assesses each situation on its merits. A senior official in the school system that fields the most complaints said districts work tirelessly to settle problems outside court to best serve kids.
Still, some parents question why they so often lose in the fight for what they see as their children’s legal right to “a free and appropriate” public education — and why lawmakers in Annapolis have quashed legislation they say would’ve helped level the playing field.

A last resort

Before a due process hearing goes before a judge, school systems and parents are supposed to work together to reach a resolution out of court. The majority of special education issues are settled that way, through mediation and other means, keeping the number of due process hearings low.
Lori Scott, chair of the Howard County Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee, says her organization counsels families on how to secure better services for their children while avoiding a due process hearing. Taking that step, she says, is a last resort no parent relishes — but one they will pursue if they feel it’s their child’s only chance.
Montgomery County’s Associate Superintendent of Special Education Kevin Lowndes said the district “bends over backwards” to resolve issues with parents before moving into due process.

“The cases that get to that level are ones we’ve done everything in our power to make a successful resolution,” he said, “but for whatever reason the parent wants something we feel we just can’t give them.”
Friedman says she spent four years in classrooms and conference rooms, trying to get the Montgomery County public school system to better educate her daughter. The girl, who Friedman requested not be named, has severe dyslexia. As she approached third grade, she couldn’t read well enough to order off an unfamiliar menu. At Dunkin' Donuts, she would ask her mom for the white one with sprinkles, unable to decipher the treat’s proper name.
She continued to fall behind her peers. In third grade, she read at the level of a new first-grader, documents show. She called herself dumb. She developed anxiety and deep shame about her inability to read.
Friedman pulled her daughter out of the Montgomery County elementary school and transferred her to a private school in Washington that specializes in teaching kids with learning differences. Her daughter began thriving, once getting into her mother’s car after school and announcing that she’d had the best day of her life: She read a chapter book for the first time. She told Friedman she never wanted to go back to her old school, which she dubbed “the death school.”
The family initiated a due process hearing to compel Montgomery County to pay the steep private school tuition, arguing that the girl’s public elementary school failed to meet her needs. While it’s rare, judges can — and have — required public systems to pay private school costs. Districts can also agree to pay for private schools without going to due process; Baltimore, for example, plans to set aside $28 million next year to pay tuition for students who can’t be served in public schools.
Friedman and her husband burned through their vacation and savings during the adversarial 10-day hearing. It left Friedman wishing the school system would fight as hard for dyslexic kids as it does against them.

Last month, the Friedmans got the news: They, like so many other parents in Maryland, had lost.
“You deplete all your resources to fight for your child’s education,” she said. “I knew the world was unjust, but I never knew it could be like this for a child.”
The judge who oversaw the hearing concluded that Montgomery County Public Schools was able to provide Friedman’s daughter a “free and appropriate education,” and that she had in fact made academic progress in third grade. The school system, which declined to comment on an individual case, argued it provided necessary academic and emotional supports for the 9-year-old girl.
The judges who decide these cases can’t speak to their rulings, which are confidential, said John Leidig, deputy director of operations for the Office of Administrative Hearings. Each case is decided on its individual facts, and the office declined to comment on the trend of parents losing most of the time.
Administrative law judges are overseen by the state’s independent Office of Administrative Hearings. Each of the roughly 55 judges in the office worked as a lawyer before their appointment.
In testimony earlier this year in Annapolis, the chief administrative law judge assured lawmakers that every judge assigned to a due process hearing is “trained, competent, neutral and fair.”

‘David versus Goliath’

Some researchers believe districts prevail much more often because they have far greater legal and financial resources than a family does. Another explanation special education experts offer is the districts will attempt to resolve cases that are less likely to be won and go to a hearing only if they are supremely confident in their chances. Others believe judges give deference to the judgment of district officials.

“It’s always been a David and Goliath issue,” said special education attorney Selene Almazan.
Project HEAL produced a report analyzing each of the 105 due process hearings from fiscal year 2014 to the second quarter of fiscal year 2019, most of which were initiated by the parents.
Judges sided with school districts in all but 14 cases. No parents won if they represented themselves.
Advocates caution that for every parent who makes it to a due process hearing, there are countless others without the resources to even consider taking on a fight they’re likely to lose.
Karen Kwasny is debating going to due process to fight for the right for her daughter, who has a variety of learning disabilities, to be properly educated in Carroll County Public Schools. But she’s torn.
“I’m afraid I’ll lose and the money wouldn’t be used for her education,” she said. “It’d be used to fight a system that doesn’t favor families.”

Perry Zirkel, a Lehigh University professor and recognized expert in special education law, warned against looking at the percentage of district or parent wins alone. Due process hearings, he says, are complex and nuanced.
“It all depends on the perspective,” he said. The same people “looking at the same data, can have different perceptions about what is fair or who should prevail in these cases. It’s not like science or mathematics.”
Due process complaints are filed against school districts across the state. The systems in Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Harford counties and Baltimore City have litigated several dozen. Montgomery County fields the most. It’s the largest school district in the state, and among the wealthiest.
For low-income families, due process brings additional, potentially insurmountable, hurdles. Project HEAL found an average due process hearing spans about four days — meaning a parent will likely have to take off work multiple days in a row. If they want a chance at winning, parents must bring in expert witnesses to testify on their behalf. These experts often come with a hefty price tag, as do lawyers.
The system’s “complex protocols and mandates disproportionately benefit wealthy, well-educated parents, who can deftly and aggressively navigate the due process system with the aid of private counsel and paid education experts,” according to an American Association of School Administrators report on national trends.
Meanwhile, the amount of money districts spend to fight parents in a due process hearing can sometimes exceed the cost of the service families are requesting.
That was the case for Sarah Davis, an Anne Arundel parent who asked the school system to pay for an independent evaluation to determine whether her daughter, then in eighth grade, is dyslexic. The district spent more than $30,000 in its dispute with Davis, according to documents provided to The Baltimore Sun. The evaluation — for which her family eventually paid — would have cost the district one-tenth of that.
“Anne Arundel County Public Schools exhausts all resources as we attempt to provide appropriate accommodations and/or services to all students with disabilities,” spokesman Bob Mosier said in a statement. “When there is disagreement about those accommodations or services, we attempt to reach resolution using collaborative means. There are times, however, when those avenues don’t result in an agreement. Our focus in all cases is meeting the needs of the student.”
School systems “shouldn’t be spending thousands of dollars to avoid paying for something that will cost a fraction of that,” said attorney Wayne Steedman, who represented Davis and other Maryland families in these cases.

Stalled changes

A Baltimore City delegate introduced a bill in this year’s session that would have imposed new regulations on the judges who preside over special education cases.
There are dozens of these administrative law judges, yet due process hearings are relatively infrequent. That means, according to Project HEAL, a judge will on average go 25 months between rulings on special education cases. Administrative law judges oversee cases stemming from more than 30 state agencies.
Judges' average time between special education decisions

Del. Stephanie Smith proposed mandating additional special education training for judges. The training would have discussed how to recognize and avoid implicit bias and understand the perspective of a parent whose child has a disability.
Chief administrative law judge Thomas Dewberry testified in opposition, saying it was unnecessary because judges already receive extensive training on special education, and the law would undermine the office’s independence.
Smith withdrew the legislation. She did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
That pattern has been repeated with due process-related bills.
Another bill introduced in the session would’ve enabled families to recoup expert and attorney fees. It received an unfavorable report in the Senate.

In Maryland, the party that files the due process complaint carries the responsibility of convincing a judge that the special education services that schools provide are inadequate — a standard stemming from a 2005 Supreme Court decision.
The General Assembly has many times in recent years considered shifting the burden of proof to the school system, as states such as New York and New Jersey have done. Legislation would have required school systems to defend the appropriateness of the learning plans they’d crafted for students, even if it was the parents who filed the complaint. The Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which represents all 24 school systems, opposed the bill, saying it would increase the cost and duration of these disputes.
Supporters argued it would force districts to work more collaboratively with parents.
Legislation that would’ve put the burden of proof on school systems repeatedly failed.