Monday, August 30, 2010

From the Wild and Weird Department of Public Ed in the U.S.

Elsewhere in education (kind of) in the U.S.

First up, the ex-drug addict mom who just wants to volunteer. Okay, so Jessica Gianfranco from Rhode Island had two felony convictions in her early twenties for drug possession (she was a heroin addict). Fast forward 6 years. She went through detox, became a mom (apparently right around the time she quit), is in a 12 step-program. Her daughter is in kindergarten. Mom wants to be a PTA volunteer at her daughter's school, helping with events and going on field trips.

If you volunteer at any school, you can see where this is going. They ask you to do a background check and the form asks if you have been convicted of a felony.
The ACLU is now involved because drug addiction is considered a disability (along with being a prosecutable crime).

Now I personally don't see the ACLU on these grounds but more on the issue that a criminal record or drug-related disability isn't a barrier to employment, just to being a volunteer. She has been a correspondence coordinator for the PTA but she can't work with children or at events where children are.

She said she believes the school system does need a policy regarding those with criminal records.

"I don't want a child molester in the school with my daughter either, but they need some type of discretion."

Now I looked at a couple of parenting sites and it's "she made a mistake years ago, be forgiving" or "look, she had felonies and I wouldn't want her around my kids".

As a former PTSA co-president and having served on many Boards all I can think of, for both the school and the PTSA is....liability. Sure, you could ask the School Board to draw up a list of "okay" felonies and "not okay" felonies (plus how far out they occurred in a person's life) but if just one person who gets approved from the "okay" list does something, there will be a lot of finger-pointing (not to mention lawsuits).

I get this woman is turning her life around but I don't know how much I would want to change the policy. Thoughts?

Then, we have the middle school in Mississippi (75% white, 25% black now but I don't know the stats from 30 years ago) where they have the kids nominate and vote by race for class officers. Yes, in order to have diversity, they rotate the offices and list them as "white" or "black". Initially, the superintendent was "reviewing" the processes and procedures but yes, now that it has national attention, the School Board got rid of the policy.

What sparked this is a mom with a mixed-race child who complained that her child couldn't run for class reporter. The mom had just moved to this town in April from Florida (where presumably this nonsense won't fly).

I say this a lot but it's freakin' 2010, are you kidding me? How did NO one ever say anything? Was it really impossible for any black student to get elected without this so-called help? I seriously doubt it.


Anonymous said...

...but it's freakin' 2010, are you kidding me? How did NO one ever say anything? Was it really impossible for any black student to get elected without this so-called help? I seriously doubt it."

Something else that is happening in 2010:

The biggest issue driving national elections at the moment is whether or not a "mosque" should be built 2 blocks away from ground zero.

We're talking about the culture of the USA--bigotry is alive and well. No, I wouldn't be surprised that it was impossible for a black student to get elected.
ken berry

reader said...

I don't buy that "drug addict" is a disability. Under which list of disabilities? Not under the IDEA. ADA is broader though. Child-molester could be considered a disability too. What about criminally insane? Surely "insanity" could be disability too, if anything goes. You can't just add disabilities for every maladaptive behavior. Furthermore, the ADA only protects you if you're otherwise qualified for the job. It's hard to say how you could be "qualified" to volunteer.

As to the Mississippi thing. The school is sort of damned either way. Yes, it is certainly possible that the student council positions need some sort of affirmative action. Those are pretty much beauty contests... and therefore it is entirely possible that minorities could never win... and be excluded completely from participation. But then... there's the tricky bi-racial, multi-racial, more obscure racial cases.

Sahila said...

I know someone in this geographical area who is in the same position as the Rhode Island woman and her drug related conviction is more than 15 years old... 15 years with not one step on the wrong side of the law and she still cant be involved in her child's educational experiences...

I dont think that's appropriate....

Charlie Mas said...

And then there is this story about Michael Moulton, a teacher convicted of inappropriate touching who successfully appealed his firing and was put back into the classroom.

This doesn't help anyone and it puts all teachers' unions in a bad light.

hschinske said...

It's Jessica Gianfrocco, not Gianfranco (mentioning this as I couldn't find the story online until I Googled with everything *but* her name).

I do think there ought to be some sort of probation period (a certain number of years clean, with no other criminal record at all), but six years seems like enough, given that it was only possession/use and not dealing.

Helen Schinske

hschinske said...

What about criminally insane? Surely "insanity" could be disability too, if anything goes. You can't just add disabilities for every maladaptive behavior.

What? Of course mental illness is a disability. Moreover, last I heard, those with mental illness were no more likely to commit violent crimes than the general population. See http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/587839.

Helen Schinske

reader said...

Volunteering isn't a right. In 48 states, felons can't even vote. Doesn't that seem much more fundamental? This person can volunteer, she just can't volunteer in all possible positions. Nobody says she can't "be involved in her child's educational experiences"; the involvement is simply limited. I would agree that there should be some sort of time limit... but not 6 years, perhaps something like 15 or 20 years. Sheesh. My mother never came on a single field trip, nor volunteered at our school - ever. It didn't make one bit of difference to me, or have any educational impact.

reader said...

Mental illness is NOT a disability category under IDEA. Check out the categories. There's "other health impaired", but it's not that easy to qualify. And you've got to show broad, long term impacts across many domains. It seems to be mainly reserved for ADHD.

Mental illness might not predispose you to violence, but that isn't the issue. The issue is the felony. Most likely, felonies don't predispose you to violence either.

Kelly05 said...

Drug addiction is not a prosecutable offence. Drug possession or sale, yes. I don't know whether it is a disability, but substance dependence is a diagnosable disorder that can be qualified as "in remission."

Dorothy Neville said...

Drug felony: Teachable moment that some actions have permanent consequences. She can be a great mom and volunteer doing what she can within the system and its rules. Showing her child and her community that by her actions, owning up to her past and living with the consequences and still doing her parenting and volunteering, she has integrity and can be a role model.

Unknown said...

Employers can't look back any further than 7 years, and there's plenty of pressure from a variety of sources that they shouldn't be looking at past (or even current) felonies at all. For example, generally speaking the EEOC thinks that using convictions to impact employment can lead to disparate treatment, since such a higher percentage of people of color get caught up in our justice system than Caucasians do.

Personally, if if was 7 or more years back, I'd be forgiving. But I wonder if I'd feel the same way if, for example, the offense was directed at a third person - -assault for example, or, god forbid, assault (sexual or otherwise) of a child.

dan dempsey said...

In regard to sexual abuse ... there is a major difference in a 22 year old having sexual relations with a 16 year old and .... a 22 year old having sexual relations with a 5 year old. Each should be strongly discouraged but these are not really similar.

The are some cases where looking back a long way may be merited. Not caught recently does not mean the behavior is extinguished. Again depends on the behavior and the situations.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And I get all that. But forgiveness is an individual thing. The courts and the legislatures hammer out who gets punished and how much (and even then there is leniency).

But how to get to that on an individual school/district basis? I think it asks too much of those people to make judgments they aren't really qualified to make.

dan dempsey said...

"make judgments they aren't really qualified to make."

So when has that ever stopped the SPS?

Unknown said...

All kinds of things are considered disabilities under ADA, including a variety of mental disorders. This is a big issue for business owners, who are required to accommodate disabilities under ADA, but have to cope with a very wide array of disabilities. I don't know whether it is a good or bad thing that homosexuality is specifically excluded from the list of disabilities. On the one hand, no stigma, on the other, businesses can discriminate.

This was 1995, but a co-worker who went to school in Missouri said that when the history class held a debate on slavery, about half the class enthusiastically believed the pro-slavery side.

hschinske said...

Reader, mental illness is pretty well covered under what IDEA calls emotional disturbance. See http://www.education.com/reference/article/idea-thirteen-categories-disabilities/

"Emotional disturbance: a disability whereby a student of typical intelligence has difficulty, over time and to a marked degree, building satisfactory interpersonal relationships; responds inappropriately behaviorally or emotionally under normal circumstances; demonstrates a pervasive mood of unhappiness; or has a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears."

Helen Schinske

spedvocate said...

Helen, "mental illness" isn't one of the 13 disability categories under IDEA. It's a bit of a vague term in any case. Nobody would walk into a school and say: "BTW. I've got mental illness... give me special ed." And, drug-addicted isn't an "emotional impairment". Typically, those are disruptive students whose behavior impedes the learning of others and/or emotionally fragile students. In SPS, we have EBD programs and an internalizing disorders program. Drug addiction on it's own, doesn't qualify you for anything. This parent seems to not actually be "disabled" since she is able to function just fine by all accounts. Isn't that her actual claim? "I'm perfectly fine. Let me play with the kids."

The categories are: autism, deaf-blind, deaf, emotional disturbance, hearing impaired, mental retardation, mulitple disabilities, orthopedic impairement, other health impaired, specific learning disability, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment.

That's it. If she were disabled by her addiction, having many years of demonstrated problems, it is possible she could qualify under "other health impaired". That is more of the catch-all category. But, it wouldn't be a slam dunk.

But, the ADA is another matter... this isn't a work place. So, it's hard to see how that applies. And, under the law, she's a felon.

hschinske said...

Spedvocate, the topic drifted. I was responding to Reader's suggestion that it was ludicrous to consider mental illness a disability (nothing to do with whether chemical dependency may be so defined, which I didn't touch on). That doesn't jibe with my understanding of how disabilities are defined in educational institutions, by federal assistance programs, or anywhere else. Mental illness, if severe enough, can most certainly be a disability under just about every disability regulation I've ever heard of. That's all.

I don't know why IDEA is relevant anyway, given that the thread started out being about a non-student.

Incidentally, only twelve states bar those with felony convictions from ever voting again (and in most of those states it's not all felons who are barred). Typically as long as you're no longer incarcerated, on parole, or on probation, you can vote. In some states you can vote during parole or probation, and in two states there are no restrictions on felons voting.

"Forty-eight states prohibit current inmates from voting, 36 keep parolees from the polls, 31 exclude probationers, and only two — Vermont and Maine — allow inmates to vote, according to the Sentencing Project, a liberal advocacy group in Washington, D.C."


Helen Schinske

spedvocate said...

Depends on the "mental illness." Having an illness, mental or otherwise, isn't necessarily a disability. Simply having a condition, that requires some effort or treatment on your part, wouldn't be a disability. Furthermore, what statute is it that this woman is using? ADA doesn't really seem to cover this issue and obviously IDEA doesn't either. It isn't employment, public transit or health, or housing. It would seem a leap to declare a "right" to volunteer. I would hope the ACLU would have bigger fish to fry.

hschinske said...


"7. Q: What about applicants with a history of illegal drug use? Do they have rights under the ADA?

A: It depends. Casual drug use is not a disability under the ADA. Only individuals who are addicted to drugs, have a history of addiction, or who are regarded as being addicted have an impairment under the law. In order for an individual's drug addiction to be considered a disability under the ADA, it would have to pose a substantial limitation on one or more major life activities. In addition, the individual could not currently be using illegal drugs. Denying employment to job applicants solely because of a history of casual drug use would not raise ADA concerns. On the other hand, policies that screen out applicants because of a history of addiction or treatment for addiction must be carefully scrutinized to ensure that the policies are job-related and consistent with business necessity. If safety is asserted as a justification for such a policy, then the employer must be able to show that individuals excluded because of a history of drug addiction or treatment would pose a direct threat -- i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm -- to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. Again, individuals who currently use illegal drugs, even users who are addicted, may be denied employment because of their current use."

In other words, you don't have to be disabled by drug addiction in order to have certain employment rights protected under ADA.

Helen Schinske

hschinske said...

"Having an illness, mental or otherwise, isn't necessarily a disability."

Never said it was. I said "Mental illness, if severe enough, can most certainly be a disability under just about every disability regulation I've ever heard of." Note the IF SEVERE ENOUGH.

Helen Schinske