Principal who degraded special education student as “psychopath” retains job

Principal of Oxford Area High School

Dr. Dave Madden (credit

(Oxford, Pennsylvania: a suburb of Philadelphia) Despite being caught texting and emailing comments that degraded a special education student at his school, the Oxford Area School District, a suburban Pennsylvania K-12 district, voted to reinstate the principal of Oxford Area High School on a 6-3 vote. Dr. David Madden had been placed on suspension due to written comments he made regarding a bipolar special education student. At the board meeting following the vote, parents reacted angrily to the decision. Parents discussing the issue had tears in their eyes as they described Dr. Madden’s comments as hurtful and insensitive.

The issue surfaced during a March IEP for the emotionally disturbed student. During the IEP, the student was represented by Lisa Lightner, a special education advocate employed at the Arc of Chester County, a program which provides services to disabled people. Ms. Lightner became bothered when she saw two administrators texting during the meeting. She stole a quick look at the Assistant Principal’s phone and saw that the text was from Dr. Madden, who was also seated at the table, and that it began, “F&!@ this manipulator.”

Ms. Lightner reported the incident to her supervisor. Based on the incidence, Arc instituted a Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) request for all records related to the student. Unearthed in this material were other derogatory messages about the emotionally disturbed student specifically and special educations students in general; all the emails were written and distributed by Dr. Madden via his district email account. In these blasts, he called the student a “psychopath” and expressed concern that the student could be another “Hinkley, Booth, AND Oswald.” (emphasis mine). Regarding special education students generally, he wrote that special education students, who he referred to as “the guilty people,” have more rights than “the innocent.” He went on to state, “Amazing world we live in and equally amazing that people are afraid of lawsuits. I say bring them on.”

Despite all this, the board voted not to fire Dr. Madden, but he has to meet certain stipulations. First, Dr. Madden is no longer be allowed to work with special needs kids. Second, he is being required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Third and finally, Dr. Madden is being required to undergo substance abuse testing. These measures have done little to soothe over harm caused by his comments. In the aftermath, the school’s special education director, Jenny LeSage, quit rather than continuing to work under Dr. Madden. Ms. LeSage was quoted by saying,

Why would you have an administrator in a building where you basically say we don’t want you to have anything to do with 200 kids in the building? It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life

In addition, many parents are outraged over the incident.

When concerned parents showed up to voice their disapproval, the board basically attempted to silence their opposition. Parents and concerned citizens were not allowed to mention the administrator by name. Further, questions brought about the board’s decision were left unaddressed. Ironically, because Dr. Madden degraded the special education student, the board had to meet to discuss paying out a settlement of between $200,000 and $250,000. It looks like the Dr.’s desire for lawsuits is going to come true.


Disabled children 4X more likely to experience violence suggests study

Child victim of violence

credit: adpunch

In a recent study published in The Lancet and funded by WHO, the World Health Organization, it was discovered that children identified as disabled are nearly 4 times more likely to experience childhood violence than their typical peers. The methodology for the research was to examine all the previous research on the subject over a 20 year period and then determine for those studies the strength of the research methodology. Based on this, 17 studies were chosen from a pool of 10,663 possibilities. The results of those 17 studies were then pooled and analyzed to reach its conclusions.

Findings: According to the study, violence is a major problem for all children with disabilities. The highest levels of exposure to violence was among emotionally disturbed children, while the lowest rates were seen among children whose disabilities were labeled as non-specific.

The authors note that their study has some weaknesses, stating

However, the continued scarcity of robust evidence, due to a lack of well designed research studies, poor standards of measurement of disability and violence, and insufficient assessment of whether violence precedes the development of disability, leaves gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed.

A summary of the report is here and the full study can be found here.

Bill adding family considerations to special education factors weighed in NY

As reported in the NY Times,Governor Cuomo of New York is deciding whether to sign a bill that would allow parents and schools to consider a child’s family background when making placement decisions for a special education child. The bill has already passed both branches of the legislature, and it is supported by religious groups which say many religious students are not prepared for the daily reality of life on our nation’s public school’s campuses. Opposing the bill is New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, who argues that the language is too broad and could cover all kinds of considerations that are not important to a child’s education. Further, some critics feel the bill, if signed, will cut against the grain of the statutory intent of the IDEA, for which have students in the less restrictive environment and not segregated from their typical peers.

As is true of most federal law, states are free to offer greater protection to individuals than is offered by federal laws, they may not offer less though. If the bill passes, it could lead to other states putting into place such laws.

Mario Cuomo

Supreme Court declines to hear zero-tolerance case

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down a case involving application of a school district’s zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons to a student who shot spit wads in class. With its decision, the six-month school expulsion stands since the student has no further recourse.

In 2010, Andrew Mikel was a freshman at Spotsylvania High School in Pennsylvania. During lunch one day, he made the unfortunate choice to shoot small plastic pellets from the broken tube of a ball point pen at three students during the break. While the victims in the incident did report that the pellets left red marks, no one was injured by Andrew’s actions.

Andrew Mikel II and his father (Credit

At first, Andrew was given a 10-day suspension, but the school board later voted to extend the suspension citing the district’s zero-tolerance policy for weapons policy which states that students who use a weapon to threaten, intimidate, or injure another student are subject to expulsion for a 365 period absent extenuating circumstances. Their actions did not stop even there though. The district referred the incident to the criminal courts where the honor student was accused of assault. Andrew was required by the court to attend a diversion program and took anger management classes and substance abuse classes.

In all this, the fact that the student was an honor student who wrote letters of apology to each of the victims and also offered restitution to the families in the form of raking leaves at their homes seems to have never been taken into consideration.

The lower court, despite upholding the school board’s decision, noted in its holding the absurdity that Andrew could be expelled for shooting spit wads, but if he had instead simply walked up and punched a student in the face, the maximum punishment would be a 10-day suspension.

It is a shame that the court declined to take up the case. This is another example of how zero-tolerance policies are being used in ways that make zero sense and children’s lives are being harmed in the process.

In this case, Andrew, an honor student, was preparing himself to gain entrance into the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Now, due to the criminal charges and his expulsion, that dream is shattered. He has been informed that based on this incident and the ensuing disciplinary actions, it is virtually impossible for him to pursue his dream. Due to this, he has now decided to try to get into the Virginia Military Institute instead.

If schools are going to continue to attempt school expulsions for disciplinary infractions of this sort, more court cases are sure to follow. While everyone wants schools to be safe, expelling this student in this case does nothing to advance that goal. The students were never in danger, nor was it even argued that the student intended to cause bodily injury to the other students.

While this student is out-of-luck, it can be hoped that the Court will take up such a case in the future and give guidance on the appropriate uses of zero-tolerance in school.

Mikel family discusses case (click to go to YouTube video)