Protect Students from Trauma Created by UofO's Ballmer Institute

Protect Students from Trauma Created by UofO's Ballmer Institute

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Why this petition matters

Started by Amy Fellows

We are parents, grandparents, teachers, researchers, public health leaders, mental health therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and concerned citizens. 

The recent announcement by The Ballmer Institute for Children's Behavioral Health in partnership with the University of Oregon and Portland Public Schools has us very concerned for the future of our schools. In particular, we are concerned for our most vulnerable children and families who this project puts at risk of continued institutional trauma and harm.

Oregon has one of the lowest rankings for children's mental health, coming in at 41st in the country.  This ranking demonstrates a massive need for truly trauma-informed, culturally relevant, neurodivergent accepting mental health supports in our schools—supports that firmly connect to community mental health organizations that understand the latest in child development and neuroscience.  Behavior is both communication and indication, and the influx of behaviorism the Ballmer Institute promises to deliver is ultimately a disservice to our children.

What we truly need is an institute where school leaders and mental health professionals are trained on the teachings of experts who view mental (& behavioral) health through a relational lens: Individuals and organizations such as Dr. Mona Delahooke (who understands that adult co-regulation is vital); Dr. Ross Greene (with the Collaborative Problem-Solving model and Lost at School book); Greg Santucci (Occupational Therapist); Dr. Bettina Love (who talks about the spirit murder that Black children experience in our schools); The Therapist Neurodiversity Collective (SLPs and OTs who have embraced the neurodiversity movement); the Autism Self Advocacy Network; and the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, local  Family Peer support programs like Oregon Family Support Network and Youth Peer support programs like Youth ERA to name a few.

Rather than focusing on mental health and wellbeing, the UofO Ballmer Institute for Children's Behavioral Health appears to be more of the same behaviorism that has already caused so much harm in Oregon schools.  However, the critical difference this time is that it seems to be backed by Big Data and led by people with ties to for-profit standardized testing companies.  The UofO has been pushing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) into Oregon schools for years, which has not only led to more behavioral challenges but has pushed many neurodivergent and Black, Indigenous, and students of color out of schools and school districts. It is not possible to have trauma-informed schools as long as the Oregon Department of Education, Portland Public Schools, and many other districts continue to give lip service to what it means to be genuinely trauma-informed while simultaneously implementing behaviorist practices such as PBIS and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). These practices are about taking data on externalized behaviors, not understanding the emotions or root causes.

The behaviors that teachers and staff are confronting in schools are not "symptoms" of a disability to be managed or cured or simply "bad behavior"; they are "evidence" that something is missing in the educational environment for the child.  When taken as evidence, children's behaviors can tell us about unmet needs, which often stem from an absence of appropriate services and supports. We need an institute focused on meeting children's needs rather than collecting data and systematizing our children for further profit and research funding.

We need to move away from Behavioral Health and back towards real Mental Health, which is Relational. While we're doing that, we need to make sure that we're meeting students' educational needs with a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment. We need to move away from PBIS in schools and expand the Collaborative Problem Solving approach that is being utilized at The Child Center, within the Lane Education Service District, and elsewhere. We need to put these millions of dollars into decreasing class sizes so teachers can have relationships with students. We need to ditch standardized testing so students can actually have engaging content. We need to fully acknowledge the reading crisis that leaves so many behind and ultimately sends so many of our youth down the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to shift our curriculum and our teacher training programs to ensure they follow the science of reading. How will the Ballmer Institute serve our children who have not been properly taught to read?

 We need licensed mental health providers, counselors, social workers, speech-language pathologists, and occupational therapists - not the army of Behavioral Health Specialists the Ballmer Institute promises to pump out and place in our schools in place of unionized staff / teachers / school counselors / mental health professionals / reading specialists / school librarians.

Dr. Arturo Cavazos, the superintendent in residence of the Holdsworth Center, urges educators, administrators, and other stakeholders to "use equity and access as a new lens to do the right work and strategically abandon the wrong work." He asks all of us to "engage in dialogue that moves people from compliance to commitment." We invite the Ballmer Institute into that dialogue. It is the commitment we have, as concerned parents and professionals, to all children that informs our request that the Ballmer Institute builds the following safeguards into their program: 

  •  An advisory board that includes parents of Black and Brown and Neurodivergent students, former and current Neurodivergent, Black and Brown Oregon students, Mental Health Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, school counselors, and teachers. 
  • Instruction that includes the voices of Neurodivergent students who Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and PBIS in our schools has harmed, and the parents who advocate for them- Nothing About Us Without Us should be the standard in all instructions and research.
  •  Every step of setting up and running this institution should be done with an Equity and Disability Justice lens and framework for decision making.

This letter created by: 

Tereza Bottman, Portland Public Schools Teacher & Parent

Jeni Canaday, Parent, Family Support Specialist and Accessible Education Advocate

Amy Fellows, MPH  Parent & Accessible Education Advocate, Public Health Professional

Heather Millehrer-Huerta - Parent & Educator

Dr. M.L Riley, Disability Scholar and Accessible Education Advocate 

701 have signed. Let’s get to 1,000!