Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Three Warnings? You’re Out of a Job.

by Kerry Dougherty

Unbelievable. If what Abby Zwerner’s lawyer said yesterday in her press conference is true, it wasn’t enough to sack only the superintendent of Newport News Public Schools over the near-fatal shooting of a first-grade teacher by an armed 6-year-old. A host of other indifferent school administrators need to join him in the unemployment ranks.

Oh, and they all need to buckle up for legal proceedings that could blow the roof off that dysfunctional school system.

Here, watch for yourself. I’ll wait:

Diane Toscano is not an ambulance-chasing lawyer. She’s a well-respected, experienced Virginia Beach attorney who once worked as a prosecutor. She just notified Newport News of her intention to sue on behalf of the wounded teacher, which may be part of the reason the school board decided yesterday to fire George Parker, the city’s school superintendent.

Toscano knows the law and seems confident that the chronic apathy that infected administrators at Richneck Elementary School will be enough to take this case out of the Workman’s Compensation meager coverage and open the schools to full liability for Zwerner’s injuries. Continue reading

Graduates. And Not.

by John Butcher

The U.S. Department of Education requires every state to annually report high school graduation rates. Those data, along with students’ performances on state assessments in subjects such as mathematics, English, and science, along with other measures, are also used to determine annual accreditation ratings.

The VDOE’s website includes the Superintendent’s Annual Report where one can find a wealth of information at the state, division, and school levels.

At first glance, the spreadsheet in Table 5, Diploma Graduates and Completers, looks to be a source of interesting graduation data. The 2022 report gives the diploma counts for 2022 and the fall memberships for 2019. However, calculating the federal diploma rates from those data shows a 203.6% rate for Radford and 151.8% for Hopewell.
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Virginia Community Schools Redefined – Part 2 – Stop Trying to Provide Mental Health Services in School

by James C. Sherlock

In Part 1 of this series I described the current Virginia Community School Framework (the Framework) and found it not only lacking, but counter-productive.

Its basic flaw is that it assumes all services to school children will be provided in the schools by school employees, including mental health services.

When you start there, you get nowhere very expensively, less competently, and with considerably more danger in the case of mental health than if the schools were to partner with other government and non-profit services.

This part of the series will deal with child and adolescent mental health services exclusively.

Public mental health, intellectual disability and substance abuse services for children and adolescents are funded by governments at every level. For the federal view of the system of care, see here.

In Virginia, those services are organized, overseen and funded through a state and local agency system.

  • The state agency is the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) in the Secretariat of Health and Human Resources. The Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) (Medicaid) plays a funding and patient management role as well;
  • Local agencies funded and overseen by DBHDS are the Community Services Boards (CSB’s) throughout the state.

Some schools and school systems seem to operate on a different planet from their local CSB’s. Indeed, the Framework mentions them only reluctantly and in passing.

The ed school establishment clearly wants to handle child and adolescent mental health problems in-house, with tragic results. They need to stop it now.

There is absolutely no need to wait. Continue reading

Newport News School Chief About To Be Sacked

by Kerry Dougherty

As I wrote this I debated whether or not to put a question mark at the end of my headline. Newport News School Chief About To Be Sacked?

I decided against it.

News reports seem certain that the Newport News School Board will vote tonight to fire School Superintendent George Parker for his cumulative failure to prevent three shootings on school property in 18 months.

The latest and most horrific, of course, was the shooting of first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner by one of her 6-year-old students on January 6.

“The Newport News School Board will vote Wednesday evening on the firing of superintendent George Parker and appointing an interim in his place,” reports The Daily Press.

“The special board meeting was announced Tuesday, and follows a series of closed meeting discussions the board has held in the past two weeks…


“Parker has faced a barrage of criticism since the Jan. 6 shooting of first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner. The shooting is the third on school property in 18 months, following the 2021 shootings at Heritage and Menchville high schools.
Teachers, parents and community members have blamed the administration for failing to properly handle “out of control” student behavior, and have called for Parker’s removal. Dozens of teachers and parents spoke at last week’s board meeting to express their anger, and others have sent letters to school board members.”

Complaints about the superintendent concentrate largely on a widespread lack of support for teachers by administrators as they try to deal with discipline problems in their classrooms. The Washington Post reported last weekend that the child accused of shooting his teacher had been the subject of numerous behavioral complaints. He allegedly terrorized his classmates by throwing furniture and had frightened another teacher by telling her he wanted to set her on fire and watch her die.

Yet there he was, still in class, in January.

What does it take to be booted from classrooms in Newport News? Continue reading

Virginia Community Schools Redefined – Hubs for Government and Not-for-Profit Services in Inner Cities – Part 1 – the Current Framework

by James C. Sherlock

I believe a major approach to address both education and health care in Virginia’s inner cities is available if we will define it right and use it right.

Community schools.

One issue. Virginia’s official version of community schools, the Virginia Community School Framework, (the Framework) is fatally flawed.

The approach successful elsewhere brings government professional healthcare and social services and not-for-profit healthcare assets simultaneously to the schools and to the surrounding communities at a location centered around existing schools.

That model is a government and private not-for-profit services hub centered around schools in communities that need a lot of both. Lots of other goals fall into place and efficiencies are realized for both the community and the service providers if that is the approach.

That is not what Virginia has done in its 2019 Framework.

The rest of government and the not-for-profit sector are ignored and Virginia public schools are designed there to be increasingly responsible for things that they are not competent to do.

To see why, we only need to review the lists of persons who made up both the Advisory Committee and the Additional Contributors. Full of Ed.Ds and Ph.D’s in education, there was not a single person on either list with a job or career outside the field of education. Continue reading

Democrats at a Town Hall: Earning a Merit Award ‘Doesn’t Matter That Much’

by Steve Spiker

The investigation into Northern Virginia schools withholding notification that some students earned Merit Recognition, based on scoring in the top 3% of the country, started with just one school, the prestigious Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology. Since this issue was first uncovered a few weeks ago, there has been a steady drip of new schools where recognition was delayed: first other high schools in Fairfax; then Loudoun;  then Prince William; and now even Stafford County has been impacted.

The response has been swift. Parents are outraged that notification of these awards was withheld, and for good reason: scoring in the top 3% of all national students can make a college application stand out, and can be the difference between receiving a scholarship or not, or in how much money they receive. For example, some universities like Liberty University offer a full scholarship to recipients.

For parents struggling with the high and rising costs of tuition, and students concerned about being saddled with crippling debt at the start of their careers, receiving a full or even partial scholarship can be a major, life-changing award. Yet systematically across Northern Virginia, some students didn’t receive notice of their Letter of Commendation until after deadlines for college applications passed.

Attorney General Jason Miyares has announced an investigation into the issue, supported by Governor Glenn Youngkin as well. This should be the minimum response: it is clear the excuse of an “administrative oversight” that has hurt hundreds of students across a dozen schools in multiple counties is not sufficient explanation.

Yet, Democrats are quick to dismiss parents’ concerns entirely.

At a Town Hall meeting with constituents, State Senator Scott Surovell (D) and Del. Mark Sickles (D) were asked about the issue, and their glib responses dismissing parents’ concerns echoes Terry McAuliffe’s infamous remarks that parents shouldn’t have a say in their kids’ education:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ckSzrgrDaU

Surovell said: “Bottom line, I don’t see it as something we ought to investigate.” He added that he suspects many high schools across the Commonwealth don’t provide recognition to students ahead of college application deadlines, which isn’t the case against investigating he thinks it is. Continue reading

Chilling Revelations In The Saga Of The 6-Year-Old Teacher Shooter

by Kerry Dougherty

Excuse my language, but what the hell is going on at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News?

On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that school administrators there have downplayed threats of violence, apparently ignoring pleas for help from frightened teachers.

One account claims that the same boy who shot and nearly killed his teacher two weeks ago threatened another teacher saying he wanted to set her on fire and watch her burn.

The Post story is crammed with horrifying accounts of violent outbursts by an out-of-control child allegedly terrorizing his fellow students and teachers.

If true, there needs to be a wholesale shake-up in that school and this bleeding heart nonsense needs to STOP.

School officials must explain why they allow students who have threatened violence against teachers to remain in the classroom. Then they need to tell us why THEY deserve to keep their jobs.

Here’s a question for Richneck school leaders: Is there anything they WON’T tolerate at that dysfunctional elementary school, where a substitute teacher told The Post that the kids were so frightening that after one day she refused to go back to that particular school?
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About That 6-Year-Old’s “Acute Disability”…

by James A. Bacon

Kudos to The Washington Post for continuing to dig into the particulars of the shooting by a 6-year-old student of a Newport News elementary school teacher. The latest revelations raise urgent questions about the causes of the breakdown of discipline at Richneck Elementary School and other schools across the commonwealth.

As the Post reports, school officials downplayed repeated warnings about the boy’s behavior, dismissing a threat to light a teacher on fire and watch her die.

Speaking through their attorney, the boy’s parents said that he has an “acute disability.” In one instance, he wrote a note saying that he hated his teacher and wanted to set her on fire. In another, he threw furniture, prompting students to hide beneath their desks. In yet another, he barricaded the doors to a classroom, preventing a teacher and students from leaving.

A six-year-old terrorizing the class. I shudder to think what he’ll be like when he’s ten or twelve.

The main question consuming the media is how the child gained access to a handgun, which his parents stated they store out of reach with a trigger lock. That’s a legitimate question. But there’s another: why was that child in school in the first place? Continue reading

Lab School Process Underway; Youngkin Oblivious to Overfunding

Stephen Cummings, Va. Secretary of Finance

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Youngkin’s Lab School initiative is off to a fairly good start, although it is probably not progressing as quickly as he thought or hoped it would.

According to the Department of Education (DOE), the department has received two applications for the establishment of a lab school— from James Madison University and Southside Community College. In addition, it has received applications from 12 institutions for planning grants for lab schools.  They are:

  • University of Mary Washington
  • Mountain Gateway Community College
  • Old Dominion University
  • George Mason University
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • University of Lynchburg
  • Eastern Shore Community College
  • New College Institute
  • University of Virginia
  • Germanna Community College
  • Emory and Henry College
  • Virginia State University

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School Choice for Poor Still Hard Sell to Democrats

By Chris Braunlich

On being told that peasants were starving for lack of bread, Marie Antoinette is reputed to have said “Let them eat cake.”

Marie Antoinette had nothing on Delegate Suhas Subramanyam.

At a House subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, Delegate Subramanyam was confronted with more than a dozen low-income families and Black community leaders demanding educational choices and opportunities for their children. Continue reading

Free at Last

by Jim McCarthy

Compulsory K-12 education under state law is a fact often taken for granted since its enactment in 1908 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1984, the state authorized homeschooling initiated by an earlier Supreme Court decision in 1972 (Wisconsin v Yoder), providing for a religious exemption from compulsory attendance in public schools.

At present, some 56,000 youth are homeschooled in Virginia. Enhanced empowerment of parents was a principal plank in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign for the statehouse and continues to be extolled even as he travels around the country in support of GOP candidates. The newly elected Speaker of the House of Delegates, Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock), enthusiastically proclaimed upon his elevation, “We’re all about empowering parents.”

Under current regulations, homeschooling is authorized where parents demonstrate the following:

1. Possession of a valid high school diploma (or a higher degree, such as can be obtained through a university), which must be submitted to the district’s superintendent (a GED does not fulfill this requirement); or,
2. A valid teacher’s certificate as approved by the state; or,
3. Provide a distance or correspondence curriculum approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction; or,
4. Provide evidence that they, as the teaching parent, can meet the Virginia Standards of Learning objectives.

Perhaps, under the excitement of the leadership of Youngkin and Gilbert, a newly woke conservative effort is emerging designed further to shed or minimize state control in this area. Del. John McGuire (R-Louisa) introduced House Bill 1454 to eliminate the existing qualifications for homeschool proctors. Evidence of student academic progress remains a requisite at the end of the school year and may be based upon a standardized test on a nationally recognized examination, or an evaluation by a licensed educator, or a report from a distance-learning vendor. Continue reading

School Discipline, Part III: Reframing Discipline in Virginia and Considerations for Making New Policy

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Reframing School Discipline

The Student Behavior and Administrative Response (SBAR) data collection was implemented in response to reframing school discipline from that of criminal, punishment, and exclusionary practices from 1991-2020 to that of restorative, intervention, and inclusionary practices in 2021 and beyond. The SBAR reports on behaviors that impede academic progress, behaviors related to school operations, relationship behaviors, behaviors that present a safety concern, behaviors that endanger self or others, and behaviors identified as persistently dangerous.

The SBAR records responses to discipline such as class removals, suspensions, expulsions with or without instructional services, and loss of privileges; behavioral interventions such as parents contacts, referrals, restorative practices; and instructional supports such as changes in placement, virtual programs, and support with and without face-to-face teacher contact.

The collection will always have inherent problems. Some data are clear: suspension or expulsion. Some data are not clear: support with or without face-to-face teacher contact. What if that contact was made by an administrator? Would removal for the last five minutes of class period be considered a removal? The reporting individual could inadvertently make the data very unreliable.

A cursory literature review demonstrated that “reframing discipline” occurred not only in Virginia, but throughout most educational institutions and juvenile justice organizations. Tight discipline policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s were replaced by less rigid or loose policies as early as 2010. After expulsions and suspensions catapulted, deterrent policies that used police, cameras, metal detectors, and locker searches were replaced by progressive policies that allow for a continuum of responses, prevention, intervention, supports, and consequences that foster positive behaviors.

Unintended Consequences of Both Tight and Loose Policies

Tight discipline policies do not allow for mitigation. The teacher uses minimal discretion for enforcement of rules. Breaking a rule, no matter the circumstance, is followed by a prescribed consequence. Loose discipline policies allow for more teacher and principal latitude over managing students. Loose discipline policies allow them to navigate the circumstance and use their professional judgment and expertise to decide on how much or how little  consequence should be received.

Our efforts to address disproportionality through looser policies that allow more educator discretion and at the same time provide better reporting and hold schools accountable may have inadvertently caused additional problems. Continue reading

Spotsylvania Pandemonium

Posted for the benefit of readers who are still in denial about the meltdown in discipline and the epidemic of violence in Virginia schools:

There have always been fights in schools. It’s never been like this.

Part II: School Discipline, Virginia Data and Virginia’s Disproportionality Concerns

This is the second of a three-part series on school discipline. The authors present information and provide discussion questions for the audience to respond. We hope the discussion will further an understanding of the complexity of school discipline and safe and orderly schools within the context of the presented data.

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Findings from Virginia Data

Data on school discipline are abundant, but not always reliable. The reasons are many. Overall, data are reported by infraction to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and to the Office of Civil Rights by each school division. One kind of infraction in one school division may be deemed another kind of infraction by another division. For example, using a curse word while talking to a teacher could be considered disrespect or a threat, depending on who is entering the data in the system. Although the VDOE has attempted to clarify the language over time, it still may not be reliable. For this reason, the data used herein refer to only a few data points of what is reported to the Office of Civil Rights by divisions for each school every two years in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018. This data can be found here. Some data are highlighted below.

Congruency Matters in Learning and Discipline Data

Congruency means that percent of total of a discipline indicator should be similar or equal to the enrollment percent of total. In other words, in 2017-2018, if 22 percent of students are Black, then 22 percent of Black students should have been suspended. In 2017-2018, 51 percent of the total number of suspensions were of Black students. This means that the Black population’s results are not congruent to the actual percent of the Black students in the total population. Continue reading

School Discipline, Part I: Framing School Discipline and National Data

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

This is the first of a three-part series on school discipline. The authors present the information and then provide discussion questions. We hope the discussion will further an understanding of the complexity of school discipline and safe and orderly schools. Part I of this series frames school discipline and provides the latest national data from the Office of Civil Rights. Part II dives into Virginia data regarding suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests and context for Virginia’s disproportionality concerns. Part III discusses how discipline has been “reframed” in recent years.

School discipline is not a simple problem. There are some aspects that educators have a great deal of power to address and other aspects that are outside their ability to influence. Recent events have also likely caused school discipline to become more complex and difficult to address.

From an Administrator’s Experience

When Dr. Matthew Hurt was an assistant principal in a K-8 school 20 years ago, discipline was among his main duties. By working with teachers, students, parents, and staff, disciplinary infractions declined each year.

He learned early-on that suspending students was like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch. The practice gave students a vacation where likely no one was there to help them catch up on their work. As it provided no disincentive to stop negative behaviors, the administration focused on in-school suspension. Staff found this was a significantly better deterrent. With in-school suspensions (ISS), the school employed an individual who worked with the kids to make sure any missed instruction was mitigated. For smaller infractions, students would be assigned to ISS during their lunch and exploratory classes (PE, music, etc.) so they wouldn’t miss any core instruction. Kids hated missing the social time with their peers, and this provided great incentive to improve their behavior.

The second lesson Dr. Hurt learned is that the administration had to support teachers with discipline. Teachers realized that what they did in their classrooms was prized, and that they were supported for not tolerating any shenanigans while teaching. Their instructional time was extremely precious. The administration supported the in-class disciplinary measures that teachers implemented and told them to send kids to the office as soon as their behavior became untenable. Students realized quickly that once their teacher sent them out of the classroom, consequences were quickly and progressively meted out.

Like every other school, this school enrolled students who frequently needed discipline, and a lot of time was spent with those students. The administration’s philosophy was that if a student was misbehaving, there were usually factors that must be taken into consideration. Disciplinary consequences were consistent regardless of those factors, but they realized there may be some mitigating interventions that could be applied to improve future behaviors. Many of these students lived in chaotic and sometimes violent homes. Staff realized that they had to double their efforts to ensure that these students had stability during the school day and realized that teachers and administrators were there to support their efforts to be successful at school. The administration spent a lot of time working with parents to find out their perspective about their kid’s behavior. They also worked with outside agencies to better coordinate necessary services. The more successful school staff were at identifying student social/emotional needs and mitigating those, the more successful they were at mitigating their negative behaviors.
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