Official SEPTA Response to this week's FCPS news

Statement from SEPTA Board:
December 18, 2019

Dear SEPTA Members, FCPS Administration, and School Board Members,

Fairfax County SEPTA is dismayed to learn of the allegations and indictments for incidents of child abuse in FCPS that were disclosed on Monday in the news and in a briefing by the Fairfax County Police Department. We are thankful that a teacher came forward to protect students, but the cover-up of abuse at the hands of a trusted administrator is devastating. We stand with the affected students, their peers who may have witnessed these events, their parents, and other school staff who may feel that their sense of safety and trust in the school system are shattered. While most staff working with students with disabilities perform their roles with their students’ best interests at heart, it is devastating to learn that a few of those whose jobs are to keep our students safe failed to do so in such a horrific manner. We believe that Fairfax County Police have taken this matter seriously and we hope that justice will prevail. Any parents or staff with additional information related to the latest incidents are asked to contact the Fairfax County Police (non-emergency: 703-691-2131); concerns regarding any abuse or neglect can be reported to Fairfax County Child Protective Services (703-324-7400).

For the community still reeling from FCPS’s seclusion and restraint reporting violations, we desperately need changes that will foster transparency and trust between parents and administrators. Fairfax County SEPTA prioritizes advocating for systemic changes based on reports of students with disabilities suffering disproportionate discipline across educational settings due to lack of understanding of neurodiversity, compassionate behavioral interventions, and trauma-informed practices. This advocacy is based on FCPS’s own data that shows that students with disabilities are four times more likely to be subject to discipline practices in FCPS than their non-disabled peers, and more so than any other subgroup of students.

Vulnerable and at-risk students, especially those students who have difficulty reporting abuse, are more easily targeted by abusers, especially in a culture that discourages teachers from speaking up on behalf of students for fear of retaliation from their supervisors. We strongly urge all staff to accept their tremendous responsibility as mandated reporters with the utmost degree of importance this role deserves.

We call for decisive leadership to address the following concerns voiced by our special education community:

1) FCPS must publicly define a clear vision of compassionate behavior management and crisis intervention, including the understanding that behaviors are a means of communication. The vision should be based on best practices, with an urgent timeline for implementation.

2) FCPS’s most recent data on test performance reveals a significant and growing achievement gap between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. Not only is FCPS failing in their responsibility to keep all of our students with disabilities safe, but FCPS is also failing to adequately educate all of our students with disabilities.

3) In order to prevent the necessity for negative disciplinary actions, a concerted effort is needed from the highest levels of the administration, and down to all school staff, to change the collective staff mindset to one of viewing challenging behaviors as a form of communication and to the teaching of alternate coping and communication strategies.

Fairfax County SEPTA encourages the following actions by FCPS:

• Emphasize to employees the recent change in policy that permits them to access and report concerns to the Office of the Ombudsman without fear of retaliation from their supervisors

• Mandate compassionate behavioral intervention training for all teachers, emphasizing that behaviors are a form of communication, and incorporating student concerns into collaborative problem solving (Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model)

• Develop a plan to end the practice of seclusion and the elimination of seclusion rooms (we note that seclusion rooms are not used at the school where the most recent abuse charges occurred)

• Actively promote alternatives to restraint, and implement widespread training in Mandt, Ukeru, Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) or other programs designed to eliminate the need for dangerous restraints

• Reorganize the special education central office to provide access and oversight to school-based employees and their implementation of IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)

• Implement consistent special education decision-making, access, and equity across the school system to eliminate differences between schools that routinely arise due to principals’ choices of resource allocation and range of knowledge of the needs of and best practices for students with disabilities

Respectfully,

The Fairfax County SEPTA Board

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