Mom of special needs student says Mass. voters need to hear her charter school nightmare

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by Brian Washington

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As if the mother of an eight-month-old and a seven-year-old isn’t busy enough, Amanda Ceide of Malden, Massachusetts, is also fighting charter school expansion in her state.

She wants residents to know how her son with special needs was emotionally traumatized while enrolled at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School.

Ceide says voters need more facts before they head to the polls in November, when a measure to lift the state’s cap on charter schools will be a ballot question.

This ballot measure is being funded by venture capitalist firms,” said Ceide. “It’s not about what’s in the best interest of all students.

Charter schools are funded using public tax dollars but are managed privately. They are not held to the same standards as traditional public schools.

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Amanda Ceide and her son, Kiernan

If voters approve Question 2, Ceide believes it will lead to more charter schools where minority and special needs students, like her son, who is both, face a disproportionate number of suspensions for minor, non-violent offenses. She also thinks it will create an education system where financially strapped public schools struggle to meet the needs of our most vulnerable kids.

Charter school nightmare

During the 2014-15 school year, Ceide enrolled her son Kiernan, who was five-years-old at time, in kindergarten at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter school. She did so despite warnings from educators at his pre-school, who indicated that, because of her child’s special needs, Mystic Valley might not be a good fit for him and he would be better served by his local public school.

“I said nope, this is going to work out and he’s going to get a wonderful education,” said Ceide.

Things did not work out. Kiernan, who is diagnosed with ADHD and sensory processing problems, was suspended six times in three months. His ADHD made it hard for him to sit for long periods of time, and, as a result of his sensory disability, he was often overwhelmed by the loud sounds commonly found at school.

“He never felt like he could succeed. He was always being told no and you have to stay in your seat,” said Ceide. “When you’re constantly being told no, as a five-year-old, you’re not getting the positive reinforcement you need to feel successful and that you’re a good person.”

In Massachusetts, charter schools are not legally required to hire licensed teachers or anyone formally trained in early, secondary, or special education. Ceide believes the school was not equipped to adequately educate and nurture her son.

“It went from him not staying in his seat to him screaming at the top of his lungs because he doesn’t know what else to do,” said Ceide. “He was being put into a small room, the ‘time-out room’, and he’d be screaming and clawing the space. Then he’d get suspended.”

But as excessive as her son’s suspensions sound, Ceide says she has heard of a lot worse.

I have met (charter school) parents who have kids who were suspended 16 times in four months.

Charters and high suspension rates

The average suspension rate for schools is Massachusetts is 2.9 percent. However, at several charter schools within the state, the rate is much higher, and suspensions are disproportionately directed at disabled and minority students.

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Read parents’ letter to education leaders

For example, the Roxbury Preparatory Charter suspended 40 percent of its students last year, including 57.8 percent of students with disabilities and 43.5 percent of black students. The City on a Hill Charter School in New Bedford suspended 35.4 percent of its students, including 50 percent of students with disabilities and 52.9 percent of black students.

Ceide has joined forces with current and former charter school parents and the Save Our Public Schools campaign to protest such practices. They’ve delivered a letter to state education leaders asking for more data on how excessive suspensions impact students and their families.

If Question 2 is approved

Ceide, who pulled her son out of Mystic Valley after roughly six months, reports that he is now thriving at his local public school.

“The accommodations he needs are being put into place, and whenever things aren’t working we come together as a group to see what we can try next and see what works,” said Ceide, who said this was not the case at Mystic Valley, which, she says, uses a “top-down” model when it comes to interacting with parents.

Ceide, who says she felt like she was bullied into accepting her son’s treatment at Mystic Valley, has learned first hand how charter schools are unaccountable to the taxpayers who fund them and the communities they serve. She’s now concerned that if Question 2 is approved, more special needs and minority children attending charter schools will experience what her son went through.

Question 2 would also cost local school districts a lot more money. Existing charter schools already cost public schools more than $400 million a year. If Question 2 passes, that could mushroom to more than a $1 billion annually in just six years.

Ceide adds it will eventually lead to a two-tier education system, where charter schools, like Mystic Valley, which has what seems like an Olympic-size swimming pool, get ample resources, leaving public schools struggling to meet the needs of their students, including those facing challenges like her son.

“The truth needs to be exposed,” said Ceide. “People think having more choice and having this capitalistic mindset is very American, but it’s a threat to democracy when you are not educating all children adequately.”

Reader Comments

  1. From the article: “In Massachusetts, charter schools are not legally required to hire licensed teachers or anyone formally trained in early, secondary, or special education.”

    It appears that Ms. Ceide is either currently or was recently employed by a graduate school devoted to formally training teachers in early, secondary, and special education. Shouldn’t this potential conflict of interest have been disclosed?

  2. Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Please. Please stop the fighting about charters. ALL of you are sorely missing the core of the issue. It DOES NOT matter whether a child goes to a public school or a charter. The bottom line is, that no matter where a student goes to school, not every student can and will succeed. We as a society are under the delusion that all children are going to be successful. It is not going to happen, ever. To believe that false premise to believe in the possibility of an Utopian society where the unemployment and crime rates are at 0%, the prisons are empty and everybody is living a well adjusted middle class or higher lifestyle. Never in history has this happened and it never will. To believe that we can make everyone succeed is hubris, pure and simple.

  3. Some relevant research from nearby Boston:

    *Special Education and English Language Learner Students in Boston Charter Schools:
    Impact and Classification
    Elizabeth Setren*
    http://economics.mit.edu/files/11208

    “Abstract
    The question of whether and how well charter schools serve special education and English Language Learners (1) remains one of most controversial in the charter school debate. This paper uses admissions lotteries to estimate the effects of Boston’s charter school enrollment on student achievement and classification for special needs students. Charter attendance boosts achievement similarly for special needs and non-special needs students. Charters also increase the likelihood that special needs students meet high school graduation requirements and earn a state merit scholarship.
    Even the most disadvantaged special needs students benefit from charter attendance. Charter schools reduce the likelihood of special needs classifications and move special education students into more inclusive classrooms at a substantially higher rate than do traditional public schools. Differences in charter classification practices are largely unrelated to charter gains, suggesting that special needs classification is not essential for students with special needs to make progress.”

  4. Having left MA for AZ as a SPED teacher, I have seen relatively well run charters in MA with good oversight because of their small numbers, and terrible charters in AZ because they have so many with little oversight. They do have a few good charters but most of the data show s them lagging behind the public schools. Luckily here there are term limits because we have had abysmal people in the legislature cutting education funding and they must leave office now. My advice is not to increase the number of charter schools because it can so easily get out of hand with non educators starting charters all over the place and closing them down when they don’t make a profit.

    1. I have a friend who used to be an Arizona teacher, so I have heard quite a bit about Arizona schools.

      As Susan said, funding is very low for schools and Arizona’s being a right to work state leads to horrible working conditions for teachers and generally low academic achievement. Funding is very low.

      What’s even worse is that Scott Walker is Arizonaizing Wisconsin by making it a worse place to teach. This will lead to lower acadmic achievement.

      Kansas under Governor Brownback has cut funding and teachers are leaving left and right. This will lead to lower academic achievement.

  5. The large number of replies to this article shows that charter schools are a hot and controversial topic.

    As I understand it, charter schools were introduced to give parents more options for a free and appropriate public education. Here in California charter schools are required to administer standardized tests and the results of those tests are posted.

    Charter schools were also to be laboratories of innovation. I know that Hillary Clinton was booed when she suggested at the RA that charter schools made a positive contribution.

    I have seen charter schools that excel by making good use of the freedom they have from some of the most inane regulation. I have also seen charter schools that are nothing more than test score factories.

    Certainly, charter schools need to be regulated to avoid the kinds of horror stories we see in this article Charter schools also have done a lot of good for students who don’t fit in regular schools or are in schools that are not performing well at this time. Most charter schools are not unionized.

    Charter schools are here to stay. So the question is how do we regulate them and how can we work collaboratively and even learn from charter schools for the best outcomes for students.

  6. Where does it say charter school teachers do not have to meet licensing requirements in Massachusetts? I am not sure but my understanding is that requirement has changed?…

    1. It has. Teachers are now required to have passed the MTELS and completed 150 practicum to work in an inclusive school setting. I believe the deadline is fast approaching.

  7. You cannot blame charter schools for the failure of public schools, and not all charters are the same and they are not for every student., We live in Calif ,My son who has adhd broad spec austisim struggled in the public school system when we first found out we had all the testing done at the Doctors as well as school and the programs he was In at school didn’t help succeed all we told at IEP mtgs (esp in High school ) it was one program after another and that they were Privately funded etc they didn’t work. It got to a point that my husband and I pulled our son out of high school where he was bullied and failing to graduate they were mortified, all our son was was a $ 33.00 a day head count so on our way out the councelor told us about a charter school they have great qualified teachers and a great IEP.also teachers trained in a program called Capturing Kids Hearts building positive productive and trusting relarionships mutual respect between teacher and students something that lacks In public schools.. My son excelled and has graduated

  8. My favorite part of your diatribe is how you could not care less about the other children in your son’s classroom. Did it occur to you that your son’s getting out of his seat, screaming & whatever else he did was disruptive to all the other students trying to learn? To the teacher attempting to teach?
    Nope. It was all about your son. The other 24 kids? Who cares. Your son needs to express himself. The article says he reacted to “noises commonly found at school.”
    Maybe he wasn’t ready for an inclusive classroom? Mystic Valley is 100% inclusive. No one school fits all.
    I don’t think the fact that your son is biracial had anything to do with it either.

    1. Ruby of course she is thinking about other kids! She is his mother! She is his advocate. But obviously she cares for other students noted by her involvement in decreasing charter schools because of their depot ably high rates of suspension of minorities and learning challenged.

  9. Still doesn’t change the fact that if they don’t change their bullying policies, students will suffer. I was bullied for 7 years, by different students, from all different grades, older and younger. When proof of the bullying was printed out for the administration a to see, they told me that one of their “best students” could never be capable of being a bully. And so, even with proof printed out, even having a cop involved, they STILL ignored the bullying. Why? Because that student, who was doing remarkably better than me academically, was adding to their data that showed how “well” kids could do at a charter school. And you don’t want to piss off that student or the parent, because god forbid if we held him accountable for his actions, his parents might take him out of the school. (I am not kidding, those words were actually said to my mother and I) See, I was too focused on not having an anxiety attack every day as I walked the halls, to do well in school. That school conditioned me to think that others opinions of me mattered. Cliques were celebrated and encouraged. In fact, MVRCS is one of the soul reasons today that I suffer from anxiety. I moved to Medford Public Schools in 2008, and it was the best decision of my life. Medford slowly but surely unwound all of my anxiety and fear about school, friends, and just being myself. I’ve never had teachers care more about me, and want me to succeed. Maybe it was because in Medford (and most public schools), you actually need a degree in EDUCATION to teach. I will never forget my sixth grade year at MV, when they hired a JOURNALISM major as a teacher who had NO idea what she was doing. So much so, that she had us take a 3 day MCAS exam, all in one day. They tried to tell me I had attention issues, when in reality it was because 80% of their teaching staff were complete morons, jumping from gym teacher one year, to history the next. Don’t get me wrong, I had maybe 4 teachers total in my 8 years there that actually knew what they were doing, and shocker, those 4 were the only properly qualified teachers I ever had there. If there ever comes a day when that school needs a vote to be shut down, I will be the first in line, ready with a novel written about my experiences at that school. What’s the point in having good grades and great students, if you are teaching them to suck as people? I know about 20+ students that all left before or after I did to enroll in public schools in their cities. From Revere, Malden, Medford, Peabody and more, they ALL say how getting out of MVRCS, was the best decision they have ever made.

    Look, the whole charter school system is a complete joke. When I entered in third grade, they told my mom they would always have us two years advanced. so third grade was like 4th – 5th grade, etc. which after moving back to public school, I learned was complete bullshit. the ONLY great skill I learned from MV was how to bang out a 5 paragraph essay in half an hour. everything else, math science, history, etc was all caught up with the charter school. In fact, charter schools often don’t teach geography, until high school if at all. To reference the article: “In Massachusetts, charter schools are not legally required to hire licensed teachers or anyone formally trained in early, secondary, or special education.” …. How can we expect these “teachers” to be teaching us advanced material? You can’t. Also, the smaller the school, the worse the cliques are. and I have been to enough schools, big, small, private, charter, and public, to be able to say that. Medford high was the biggest melting pot, with love and acceptance around every corner and with teachers that had certifications, degrees and training in teaching and counseling. When you get your degree in education, you are trained in ways that are 110% necessary for you to learn in order to be a well-rounded, great teacher who can PROPERLY do their job. I hope for a future where people see that the cons MAJORLY outweigh the pros of having charter schools, and in turn they slowly fizzle out and lose the public funding in which they absolutely do not deserve, since they play by their own twisted, private rules.

    1. Please do not forget the people who are the money folks behind most, if not all, charters…the Koch brothers, Pearson Publishers who publish the primarily books and tests et al. There is no way on God’s earth that you can convince me that there is not a boatload of politicians and high placement “educators” whose palms are not being greased to destroy and malign our students and lead the parents who have not done the investigations of these schools for
      themselves down the garden path to have a poison tea tea party. It’s about the money and minimal accountability with arbitrary selection of their students they want to educate.

    2. Your experience at the charter school you attended may not be the same as someone else’s. The reality is that bullying can take place in any school setting. I appreciate your academic success in Medford but someone from your same graduating class may have a totally different opinion.

  10. I worked in Kindergarten at Mystic Valley and I just need to say, this “small time-out room” that your child was clawing is ALSO equipped with a special education teacher who speaks to each child who is in there with a calm voice and they do everything they can to calm the child down/give them the time away from the classroom they might need to be able to return to class. ALSO, it is unfair to say the suspensions and discipline was mainly targeted to minority students because the majority of our kids WERE minority students! This article is extremely biased and it is ridiculous that this woman is blaming Mystic Valley for her faults in not taking seriously what she was told about how the school operates during her multiple school tours and informational sessions. Then to also ignore her friends–who actually know her child–when they say a charter school’s structure might not be right for him.

  11. While I respect anyone’s right to an opinion, I would have to respectfully disagree with this article. To give you a little bit of background I worked at Mystic Valley for the last two years. I now currently work for a corporate business as I did not feel Mystic Valley was the right fit for me. Something I can say is the teachers at Mystic Valley are extremely under paid and under appreciated. They are so passionate about their jobs and about those kids, they are willing to work longer hours for less pay. I will 100% agree that Mystic Valley and charter schools in general are not for everybody. This school is extremely structured, however conflicting from this article, they are extremely geared towards positive reinforcement. Yes, more children do end up in the office. I’ll tell you why, when you have 30 children you are trying to educate and you have a child standing on their chair screaming, what exactly would you like to happen? As a previous teacher, knowing exactly how the process works, You were forewarned how the school operates. Mystic Valley is extremely up front about the way the day is laid out and well as the importance of structure. I have seen fellow teachers at that school bring their students backpacks, food, supplies ect.. Out of their own pocket. These kids are cared for loved and appreciated. The school was not for your son, and sounds like you are blaming the school for your child’s misbehavior. Mystic Valley and the teachers do the best they can for the resources they are given. This coming from someone who decided the school was not for me. I would be careful tossing around the word “tramautized” as I was “tramautized” by this article.

  12. When public schools were going down hill and not addressing the needs of exceptional students (very high IQ kids) they needed some place to go where they could learn at their own speed and excel.
    Failures of schools can not be blamed on charter schools as that slide was occurring long before they became more available. Charter schools are great with high intelligence kids as well as those who are challenged. Our charter school makes it a point to teach helpfulness and tolerance. Some of the kids are troublesome for various reasons so they are counseled and teachers interact with them more and sometimes the other kids help the kid out, and this is part of what is taught.
    Now, it’s jump on the charter schools making them the scapegoats for poor practices in the schools. The finger pointing is to keep most parents from knowing what’s really going on within the system.
    The public schools are required to over test for ‘data purposes’ so the teachers take valuable time from courses to teach the kids to test well so the school doesn’t lose funding. There are so many things wrong when teaching takes a back seat to securing money. Money for education should never NEVER be under threat for any reason. Money taken away from an ailing school makes the situation worse. Where is the common sense in the making fear the operative for schools in the first place. The kids lose, and when they lose the entire community suffers. So, what is the point in punishing a school that needs new books etc.?
    Teachers should be able to teach, not coach for tests. Teachers have been under threat of losing their jobs if the kids don’t perform on the tests. But, on the other hand, when a negligent teacher comes along, the kids have to teach themselves because the teacher is too involved elsewhere. Everyone is afraid to turn him/her in because of the reprisals they fear. The vast majority of teachers are wonderful and care about the kids… but the bad ones give the rest a bad name.
    One of the things I am watching is online schools for the kids to see how that works out. It’s another option of public schooling that may be actually better due to the constant supervision.

  13. Jeeze, Miss. It sounds Kiernan’s pre-school educators were right, and your child was not a good fit for that particular school. You ignored their counsel and tried to make him fit anyway, and lo and behold it went poorly. From your own description of your child’s behavior, he didn’t “go through” anything–it was the other children who were inflicted upon. In the end, you took him out and put him in public school, which was exactly what teachers said would be best from the beginning!
    I have no idea what you think this means about the idea of charter schools, but from your own story, you have a history of making bad decisions and ignoring good advice from people who know what they’re talking about.

  14. 5 of my 6 children attend or attended Charter School. The only reason the 6th didn’t is because the school wasn’t formed yet. We have had nothing but wonderful experiences there. My 13 year old son has ADD and the school goes above and beyond ensuring he has adequate resources when he gets “twitchy.” He is made to run laps (which he loves) around the school or will do pushups (which he challenges his friends with) until he is a bit more settled. I’m sorry your experience is bad but lumping all charter schools into one group negatively is shortsighted and ridiculous. We live in Alaska and don’t suffer the same problems you face in MA. Our charter school has highly gifted and qualified teachers. The article does say that the woman was told to put her son in public school as they have better resources. But she didn’t and is now complaining. Good luck.

    1. Heather, nice comment. And, true as well. My grandchildren all attended or attend a public charter school. Their education is pretty good, enough that they are ahead of their class mates in high school. The special needs kids in the school get top rate help along with the parents so that they can determine the best course of action for their child. Suspensions are very rare and not for a foolish thing or two. We live in Ma. and have decided on Charter schools for the grandkids because of the lack of forward thinking education practiced by the public schools. This charter school raises it’s own money for many of it’s needs, includes all parents in decisions about the school and the children, and has to meet the guidelines of the city schools as well. The kids’ MCAS Tests were better overall than those in public schools. There is a need for charter schools that are well run and organized. What they offer is superior for the students.

  15. Many years ago, my friends and I could see this coming. Some of our colleagues figured we were just blowing smoke. For we oldsters it started with the MEAP ( Mi. standardized test) that would NEVER be used to evaluate teachers, be tied into money for schools etc. We all knew how that turned out. There is a lot of money in the education system, and corporate America wants to “privatize” our educational system for PROFIT!
    a grass roots movement may be able to stop this (parents are powerful) but when all is said and done, some companies are going to run big schools, and the poor, sp ed. kids etc will be left out because we only want “perfect” worker bees in our hive. Sorry to be so cynical, but there it is.

  16. Another faux liberal Democrat state attacking teachers, scapegoating, shirking their responsibility to the citizens. Am not surprised that the Corporatist Democrat Party that helped ship our jobs overseas and that signed the real of the Glass Seagull Act is once again lap dogs of oligarchy. It’s way I’m an Independent now and expect nothing coming from our government. Am working for progressive causes waiting like Chris Hedges for the collapse.

    1. Think about how Massachusetts operates. All (not the current yet) the past three house leaders have been indicted on felony corruption charges, for one thing or another. Think education is not impacted? All embedded democrats for whom the progressive thinkers of the state continue to vote.

      Since the voters are not smart enough to use their term limit power( voting) we need term limits as an amendment to the constitution……now. These corrupt thieves who stay in office for sometimes more than a generation need to go. I won’t start on the Hillabeast.

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