Friday, October 15, 2010

TX: Alief Board 'Didn't Know' about Special Ed. Lawsuit -- District seeks to bankrupt student's family

With a legal battle against the family of a special needs student deep in its third year it was assumed the Alief School Board was fully informed. It appears the reality is the exact opposite.

Today Alief Trustee Nghat T. Ho told Fox 26 News not a single member of the board had a clue that the District has been bankrolling a potentially landmark Federal Lawsuit since 2007.

"I had no idea about this lawsuit against this family. The entire board had no idea. This is something the superintendent did on his own," said Ho. "I am very upset. This is really disturbing. It is not acceptable to me. We are going to get to the bottom of this. I and a lot of citizens are upset about the legal expenses."

The case centers around an autistic student named Chuka Chibuogwu. Chuka's parents battled Alief ISD because they believed the district wasn't giving their son the education he was legally entitled. The dispute was contentious and Chuka's parents ultimately gave up and pulled their son out of school.

Instead of letting the case die, Alief and it's lawyers went to Federal Court and sued the family for legal fees recently estimated to be more than $200,000. Earlier this year a U.S. District Judge ruled against the District saying it had no legal right to collect from the Chibuogwus. The defeat didn't stop Alief. The District invested even more taxpayer dollars in an appeal to the Federal 5th Circuit.

Alief critics have called the lawsuit both retaliatory and mean spirited. Others suggest the District is seeking to set a legal precedent in an effort to gain leverage over parents who advocate for their children. After weeks of refusing to tell its side of the story, Alief broke its silence with a written statement.

"AISD is very concerned with the allegations being made. This is a very unique and isolated case. Actions taken by the family contributed to the expense of this litigation and our efforts in this case are only to recoup taxpayer dollars."

Advocates for the Chibuogwus say the family has no money to pay. That means even if the District wins the appeal it will have spent more than $200,000 tax dollars to collect nothing and will have bankrupted the parents of a disabled child in the process.

A District spokeswoman says Alief Superintendent Louis Stoerner is retiring next month. Stoerner was sanctioned earlier this year by the Texas Ethics Commission for inappropriately spending school district funds to support passage of an ad valorem tax rate increase in 2008.

The spokeswoman says the impending retirement is unrelated to the sanction.In the meantime, Ho says he and other trustees will be demanding answers at the next scheduled board meeting.


Schools obsessing about chocolate milk

Would be good if they were as obsessive about teaching the "3Rs"

Is sugar-laden chocolate milk a necessary lunchroom bribe to get needed calcium and Vitamin D into our children?

That question has flavored milk in the cross hairs of many school districts across the country, put there by those who say it's really no better than soda and we're knowingly sugaring up our kids at the one place they are supposed to get a healthy meal - the school cafeteria.

This fall, Washington, D.C., schools banned the sweet drink, which can pack up to 31 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving. So have districts in New York, California and Colorado.

But some lunch ladies - school nutritionists, too - and the dairy industry that fills their fridges argue that if you ditch chocolate-, vanilla- and strawberry-flavored milk, students' thirst for all milk will drop 35 percent .

The Palm Beach County School District, where 171,000-plus students bought more than 15 million half-pints of milk last year, is trying to find a middle ground. It banned strawberry milk in 2007, after concerns were raised about the dyes in it. And this fall, it targeted chocolate milk.

Local schools officials negotiated high fructose corn syrup out of the formula, a move that cut 7 grams of sugar per drink. The district also banned serving chocolate milk with breakfast, a practice it says was in play at only a few schools anyway.

Jesenia Cano would be happy to see her daughter's elementary school drop chocolate milk from the menu.

Five-year-old Nivea drinks whole milk at home, but at school she can't resist the chocolate, her mother said. "She tells me she hates that regular (low-fat) milk. She says it tastes like water. She won't drink it," Cano said.

Although the school district isn't about to ban chocolate milk, it is waiting to see whether the state Board of Education does.

What's more likely is that the board, which will meet in December to take up the matter of what's served in schools, will make a less dramatic move: requiring flavored milk to pack less sugar, says board member John Padget .

Padget, who for the past year has been championing healthier milk in schools, says the entire school lunch menu urgently needs revision, as approximately 2.7 million of the state's children are either overweight or obese. "Most health experts agree that having healthier school food and beverages is only part of the solution, but it's a highly visible place to start," he said.

He also notes that milk gets a lot of attention because about 7 percent of the nation's milk is chugged in schools, and 75 percent of what's sold there is flavored.

Most everyone agrees that children should drink about three or four cups of milk a day. It's the primary source of calcium for most Americans. It's also packed with Vitamin D, a necessary nutrient that about 70 percent of children aren't getting enough of, according to recent studies.

All milk has naturally occurring sugars - about 12 grams in a pint. But flavored milk has added sugar. The chocolate milk served in Palm Beach County schools has an additional 12 grams.

U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest people eat fewer than 34 grams of added sugar a day. So that pint of chocolate at lunch would mean fewer cookies, ice cream or other treat later in the day.

"Further, especially with younger kids, there are so many calories in 8 ounces of chocolate milk that they'll drink that and not eat anything else," said Ann Cooper, aka "The Renegade Lunch Lady."

Cooper, a former gourmet chef, led efforts to ban flavored milk first at California's Berkeley Unified School District and then in the Boulder, Colo., school district .

"Yes, milk is important, but so is cheese and yogurt. We have to stop teaching children that everything is so sweet," Cooper said. "What are we saying? Kids won't drink milk so we're going to give them chocolate milk?

She does concede that if you drop flavored milk from the menu, some children will balk, at least initially. Studies from the dairy industry show the drop is significant. One such study indicated that elementary students drank 35 percent less milk at school on average when flavored milk was removed.


Bad behaviour 'caused by mixed ability classes'

Mixed ability classes may be fuelling bad behaviour in [British] schools, MPs have been warned. Tom Burkard, research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, said slower pupils became frustrated after being left behind by brighter classmates.

Addressing the Commons Education Select Committee, he warned that large numbers of children found lessons “totally and utterly meaningless” when they were pitched at the wrong level.

Mr Burkard, a former special needs teacher, told how the majority of truants skipped school because they dreaded lessons “they didn’t like or a teacher they couldn’t stand”.

Psychologists also told MPs that indiscipline was being caused by aggressive behaviour among adults who acted as poor role models for young children.

The comments were made as part of a new select committee inquiry into standards of behaviour in state schools – and tactics employed to promote discipline in the classroom.

According to official figures, behaviour is still not good enough in more than a fifth of secondary schools in England. At least 700 state comprehensives are failing to keep order to a high standard, it was revealed.

Mr Burkard said mixed lessons – in which staff are forced to teach children with a range of academic abilities – were contributing to the problem. Around half of all lessons in schools are in mixed ability groups, with children normally segregated only in a small number of academic subjects.

Mr Burkard said children at the lower end of the ability range or those diagnosed with special needs often had problems with "working memory" – the process of putting words into sentences, taking in information and forming conclusions. “If you don’t have this ability and you are sat in a mixed ability class, which is relying to a large extent on your own investigations, you are going to find the whole procedure totally and utterly meaningless," he said.

“If you are lucky, the child will sit at the back of the class and do very little. If not, they are going to act up. This is one of the things we have to take into consideration.”

He said a drive – launched under Labour – to tailor education to individual children’s needs was “an absolute fantasy” because teachers did not have enough time.

However, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, rejected the claims. The union leader - former head of English at a north London comprehensive - told how mixed ability classes worked well in her former school while behaviour in the bottom sets was "appalling".

In evidence to MPs, others educationalists said parents were undermining schools' attempts to instill discipline in the classroom. Many children copied behaviour they saw at home or on the street, it was claimed.

David Moore, an education consultant and former senior Ofsted inspector, told the hearing: "If you go into any shopping area on a Saturday and you watch parents interacting with their youngsters you can see why the youngsters behave the way that they do, because they model the behaviour of the adults."

Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said “less automatic respect” for people in authority may be to blame.

“I suspect we would see behaviours not terribly away far from here that might be described as low-level disruption, people talking over one another, interrupting, not always showing respect for the other speaker,” she said.

“So I think we can't say it's just children's behaviour. We actually have to look at it in context of the behaviour we see around us, lots of emoting, road rage - it's all there and it's not children's fault those things occur.”


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