Remove Laura LaMore for GRPS Special Education Justice
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To: Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education:
Re: The Removal of Laura LaMore for the wellbeing of our students with disabilities and the families and staff who love and care about them:
The Disability A-TEAM has started this online petition, because we support and care about students with disabilities. We also support and care about the special education teachers and staff at Grand Rapids Public Schools. These teachers and staff love and care about our students with disabilities each and every day!
The 847 special education teachers and staff who have bravely signed a separate, hardcopy (paper) petition represents a huge number and an overwhelming majority of the special education staff and teachers at GRPS. This is their vote of no confidence (and a testimony of low morale) in the current GRPS special education director.
It is urgent that the GRPS Board care about and respect the vote of NO CONFIDENCE by the 847 special education teachers and staff at GRPS. These teachers snd staff are the heart of the educational community!
INTRODUCTION: All Students Deserve High Quality Public Education:
Special Education in the Grand Rapids public schools has suffered immeasurable damage, betrayed our students, their parents and our staff under the direction of Laura LaMore. We, collectively, can no longer endure this. It is the actions and inactions of Laura LaMore that have brought us to make this demand. Previous appeals in 2015 to this movement have been dismissed, rebuffed or ignored. Our students are our purpose and much more important to all of us than the continued reign of Laura LaMore. We implore you to remove Laura LaMore. What follows is a list of topics, all of which can be substantiated, that demonstrate the scope of the problem. We sincerely believe that you, the Board of Education, have been misinformed about these conditions and actions because no one in good conscience could allow them to continue. It is for this reason this petition has been sent directly to you. To demonstrate our commitment, the following actions will occur if Laura LaMore is not removed by February 27, 2018. We have long passed committees, open forums and surveys. This must happen now.
- You will receive the petitions. Please note that they contain signatures representing parents and district employees.
- Various parent groups have circulated the petitions to their special education parents and others.
- The petition will be sent to every special education director and superintendent in the county as well as all appropriate agencies in the state of Michigan.
- A press conference will be called for all print and electronic media. Each will be given a copy of the petition.
- We have found a series of legal and code violations. They will be reported to the appropriate authorities to seek action.
- A series of community activities will be held at times of our choosing.
Our Students – Nearly every issue affects our students. These directly affect their well-being and prospects for a quality education. Again, documentation has been secured for these statements.
- Safety – Straight school was a K-3 school before being changed to house 18 to 26 years-old students. Bathrooms are too small for wheelchairs and resulted in a serious and continuing injury to a child care worker when a railing came off. A recent fire drill at Straight found they could not open the emergency exits since the snow had not been removed nor had the sidewalk been shoveled, making it very difficult for wheelchairs. A call was placed to the GRFD that found the building was ‘unoccupied’. The toilets are so low for K-3 students that 18 to 26 years-old students are at risk while using them. Food is served at Straight school without a food service employee to ensure sanitary conditions. The Health Department will be contacted. Regular busses are using handicapped parking spots, causing our fragile students to go further than necessary. Also, vans lack lifts to raise students in wheelchairs and others. A student was recently dropped off at a class that was in session and no information regarding his disability was provided. The teacher gave him a drink of water and was later told he can have only thick liquids because he could aspirate and die. She was also not told that he had seizures. How would you feel if this was your child? Please note Straight only represents one school. Time has not permitted further inspections, though they are scheduled for other schools. Also, our district lacks a legally required emergency plan. At a meeting with bus drivers they, too, raised concerns. They said they submit incident reports and don’t get responses. Drivers and bus attendants need updates on IEP’s. They had a young boy who had visible seizures. One day the boy just went blank and motionless. It was a seizure but a different kind since his meds had been changed. Do they do CPR? They raced to a school with a nurse. All this because no one notified them of the change. There are more examples.
- Student Placement and Non-Placement – This topic is massive.
- New Students – This is only partially documented. We have been told by building principals that they are to turn away children from special education programs who would qualify. This is speculation only that it is due to GRPS having a high amount of special education students. This has been confirmed at our many meetings with parent groups. Another school had 118 referrals but lacked the staff, resulting in that number being out of compliance despite teachers pointing out the crisis. The law requires an evaluation for all referrals within 30 days. Kids needing special education did not receive it. At Straight school, all wheel-chaired students were put in one classroom with no regard to their cognitive ability. Perhaps it was convenience over education.
- With IEP’s and MDR’s (Manifestation Determination Reviews) we have found a number of untimely procedures and unilateral changes, also illegal. In some cases, the parent is asked to be the second evaluator since they were short of staff. We have staff who have been ordered to change an IEP to reduce a class size. At Union High School an autistic child was placed in the class of a teacher who had no training in autism. In other cases, students were unilaterally reevaluated to move them to classes allowing more students regardless of the disability or the certification of the staff.
- Improper placement has led to seriously dangerous situations occur regularly, chairs, tables, books are thrown, kids run across table tops. Students are wielding scissors trying to strike others. The vast majority of this is due to improper placement of students in classes of teachers not certified for that disability and too few staff. MDR hearings have also been manipulated. The supervisor, Meta Townsand, will announce her vote that the incident was disability related before the hearing begins, thus keeping down suspension rates. Meta Townsand also announced that African American students incidents were automatically disability related because they were African American. Also, timelines are missed in various locations.
- Incident Reports – These are required of staff to report a problem or concern with a student. Many staff describe them as a joke since they never get any feedback from these reports.
- Staffing – GRPS is short on staff. The district is part of the problem. You have uncertified staff teaching special education with no training in the area. You have teachers working without child care workers. You have child care workers teaching without teachers. You have child care workers who have not received their contractual breaks since September. You have ECSE Center @ Campus ancillary staff with MARSE caseloads that should be limited to 35 but are over 60 – another violation. We have Meta Townsand who struck a teacher across the chest for offering a different opinion at a staff meeting. And on and on.
Facilities – The concerns here are varied. They range from un-shoveled walks to a fire, fire drills, burst water pipes and flooding, inadequate parking, inadequate outside lighting, no postings regarding procedures for fires, tornadoes or lockdowns. Straight school remains a particular problem because it was built for K-3 students and now houses 18-26 years old students. Drinking fountains, sinks, counters and toilets are too low, despite a promised remodeling by Laura LaMore. There is also a lack of room dividers where two classes are side by side, causing constant distractions.
Parents – "As a collaborative of many parents and parent groups, we have contributed a significant amount of information to this petition. We, therefore, would like to expressly state that we support the position to remove Laura LaMore as the inevitable and only remaining minimal solution available."
Statement from the Disability A-TEAM of West Michigan: we were asked by the Michigan Education Association (MEA) to help create open house meetings to give parents and students the opportunity to share with the MEA any experiences, thoughts, and concerns about special education at the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). We understand and respect that the statewide organization of the MEA has discovered information which triggered further investigation of special education at GRPS. We especially appreciate that the MEA cares about the students with disabilities and the welfare and best interest of these students. Upon review of the updated information from parents and students, along with the discovery of information from MEA’s investigations, we stand with the MEA.
Parent’s comments regarding the GRPS special education program from group meetings and emails:
- LRE prevented my child from being placed in special education.
- MiCi to RR without meeting.
- Changes in IEP and MDR without my involvement or consent.
- Compliance violations.
- Lack of certified staff I.D.E.A.
- Lacking support staff.
- Lacking MERT for medical emergencies.
- Substitutes not certified.
- Fire and tornado safety lacking and mold.
- Kids not in right program.
- Lack of training on student success team for anyone on team.
- Short of staff.
- Staff morale very low.
- Fire at ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education) and plumbing issues and flooding.
- No keys for student bathrooms in case of emergencies.
- Lack of response to emails – no responses.
- Exhausting to continue fighting for children and students.
- I have a master’s degree and can’t figure out the GRPS system.
- I had to spend $3000 on an advocate to get my child properly placed. I don’t have $3000 to spend.
- IEP attendance not accurate, who is there? Not followed.
- Refused to add PLAF on IEP.
- POHI/OHI eliminated – go to 504 only.
- Filed complaint and CPS called it ‘backlash’.
- Staff issues/behaviors not addressed by administration – abuse.
- Nothing happens in H.R.
- Late IEP’s.
- Padding meetings with extra staff to influence outcome.
- Teachers not supported and concerns not addressed.
- IEP’s language speaking over parents’ heads.
- Favors school and not parents or kids.
- Not explained to level of understanding.
- Inequity in tech and materials.
- Staff using racial language – students discredited.
- Poor evaluation of students.
- Parents told they are not allowed to call kids.
- Instability and inconsistency.
- Management is top-down only – need parent and staff input.
- Parents not knowing one week before school starts which school their child will attend.
- Administration not responding.
- Your staff has lost all confidence in Laura LaMore.
- Staff leaving – understaffed.
- Not listening to staff input, information withheld, unclear, blames others for all mistakes. Administration doesn’t observe students and administration demeaning and sarcastic.
- No trust.
- Hispanic concerns getting worse.
- District intimidation is real. Letters written anonymously out of fear. Hostility and harshness continues today.
- Cuts in programs – Nursing, Audiologists, Early Childhood Special Education.
- Summer calendar cut for most severely impaired students and assignments that staff are not qualified to teach.
- We cannot tell you one special education teacher in this district that has faith or trusts this administration. We would challenge Laura LaMore’s professionalism and self-serving methods.
- Autistic students assigned elsewhere due to no space in class.
- IEP goals changed to ADHD – made change to S.W. goal to MDR.
- IEP’s revised – unethical.
- Union HS – many African Americans turned down due to citation only.
- Initial evaluations after 30 days – illegal
- She has lost respect with both general and special education teachers, staff, and the community at large.
- Her management style is top down. Staff input is discouraged, rebuffed and ignored.
- She is completely unable or unwilling to inspire any kind of team effort or cohesive atmosphere.
- Her communications are rare and often incoherent. At Mayfield, she communicates with one teacher rather than the principal. The teacher complains about having to do the building administrator’s work. The staff is confused by this arrangement. Teachers and child care workers find Laura LaMore to be intimidating and refusing to accept input; they no longer offer it. They cannot get the training they feel is needed. Getting supplies is difficult. At Straight school they have one iPad for seven students. They cannot get a list of acceptable items for their expense accounts and find out they are cut off without knowing why.
- The chain of command is in disarray, with different policies for similar circumstances between buildings and directives coming from administrators they didn’t know were administrators.
- Cuts in programs without notice or explanation leaves staff uncertain about direction and purpose.
- Morale is profoundly low universally. Many staff are not returning or quitting mid-year. They are frustrated, depressed and angry.
- An RAC meeting was scheduled by Laura LaMore to find an appropriate setting for an increasingly violent student. The afternoon of the scheduled meeting, it was cancelled by Laura LaMore without a reason. We are left hanging and the student is not being helped.
- Should you doubt this summation about Laura LaMore, please walk into any building and ask the special education staff about her and the quality of the program GRPS is running.
Summary: Laura LaMore must go. Equally important, she must be replaced with someone who is open, honest, receptive and inspiring. Ms. Townsand would not be a good choice since she is seen as a carbon copy of Laura LaMore. Your staff cares and desperately wants to do a great job for our students and GRPS. Please remove Ms. LaMore to any other position and let us avoid a harmful conflict. Please act to instill the pride, enthusiasm, creativity and the commitment this staff once had for our students and school system.
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