Willamette law professor one of few to interview detained children at U.S. border

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Few people have access to the immigrant children detained at the southern U.S. border.

Wendi Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor from Salem, is one of them — part of a team of advocates allowed into the detention centers under the Flores Settlement, which was adopted by the federal government in the late 1990s.

They’re the only ones currently allowed to interview the children.

As such, the Flores team lead by Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation, scheduled two days — July 12 and 13 — to interview and evaluate the children at a detention center in Texas.

With so little time, Binford rushed to find help.

Read the original story at StatesmanJournal.com

She put out one email and one Facebook post last month. Within days, more than 7,000 responses flooded her inbox.

She heard from firefighters, lawyers, doctors, grandmothers, law enforcement officers, foreign diplomats and more. Some were willing to head to Texas. Others weren’t in that position, but offered to send money, instead.

As of Friday, more than $77,000 had been raised via a GoFundMe page to offset travel costs for more than 6,000 volunteers. Between them, they speak more than 30 languages and offer a variety of expertise.

Binford — whose law career has focused on children’s rights — also took two Willamette University volunteers with her when she traveled to the border at the end of June. More than 100 local residents have offered to help.

“It’s so inspiring to know so many people care,” she said.

All children must be reunited with parents by July 26

All this began in April when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors along the U.S. and Mexican border to adopt a “zero-tolerance policy” for illegal border crossings.

This includes taking action against parents traveling with their children and people attempting to request asylum.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents since early May, with some estimates reaching closer to 3,000.

Since then, the family separations have sparked protests across the nation, including a march June 30 at the Oregon State Capitol and a rally outside the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution on June 18.

Background: USA TODAY’s Rick Jervis talks immigration, from ‘zero tolerance’ policy to asylum

And on Friday, the Trump administration asked for more time to reunite more than 100 children under 5 years old who were separated from their parents after crossing the border.

The judge delayed ruling on the request until Monday. As it stands, the deadline to reunite families is July 10 for parents with children under 5 and July 26 for everyone else.

However, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Justice Department to share a list of the children by Saturday afternoon with the American Civil Liberties Union.

A decades-old battle

The struggle to uphold the rights of children and asylum seekers is a decades-old fight.

In the 1980s, child advocates brought a national class-action lawsuit against what is now known as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, arguing the country was violating the rights of children in detention.

The litigation dragged on for years before it reached a settlement agreement in the ’90s.

The agreement became known as the “Flores Settlement” after the case of Jenny Lisette Flores, a 15-year-old from El Salvador, who fled her home country to find an aunt in the United States.

She was detained by federal authorities at the U.S. border and her case was filed in 1985 by the Center for Human Rights.

The settlement determined children must be kept with their parents. If they are separated, they must be united as quickly as possible, Binford explained.

If that is not possible, the children must be placed with a relative in the United States or an adult authorized by the child’s parents.

Immigration officials have to first exhaust these placement options.

Related: Hundreds joined Families Belong Together march in Salem

The settlement also outlined the conditions in which the children had to be kept, from access to toilets and blankets to the temperature of the room.

The settlement also determined that a team of designated lawyers would regularly monitor the sites to make sure the Flores Settlement was honored.

Since then, Schey of the Center for Human Rights, has filed multiple motions claiming the U.S. government wasn’t doing what it agreed to.

Fighting for access

Flash forward to 2018 when the zero-tolerance policy was announced.

“All of the sudden, the government was not telling (us) where the children were taken,” Binford said.

But the settlement puts Schey and the Flores Counsel in a unique position, ultimately making them the only people able to talk with the children.

Schey requested time to interview the children, referred to as “class members.” That’s when the July 12-13 interview dates were scheduled.

The Flores group will be working at the Casa Padre center in Brownsville, Texas, the same center where U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, was refused admittance last month.

“Family internment camps in the desert, in which children are traumatized alongside their parents, are not acceptable in America,” Merkley said in a press release. “And it’s imperative that the administration reunites (these children) with their families as swiftly as possible.”

Merkley recently authored the Congressional Access to Children’s Detention Facilities Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

The act would require members of Congress be allowed to tour locations that house immigrant children within 24 hours of making a request.

Read more: Sex trafficking survivor says he was sold as a child during Indianapolis 500

At Casa Padre, the Flores team will assess whether the detention center is in compliance with the settlement.

They will interview the children to determine their names, ages, where they are from, where their family may be and when were they separated. This information can then be used to prepare case declarations.

Partnering groups, including Human Rights Watch, are proving training, supplies and other services.

Flores leaders have gone to nearly 15 detention centers already and are hoping to schedule visits in the coming weeks to dozens of sites across the country where they believe children are being held.

For more information, go to www.facebook.com/center4humanrights/.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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Salem-area parents, educators outraged over fewer adult assistants next year

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Christa Rohrbach was disappointed when told she was losing her job as a one-on-one adult assistant to elementary students with special needs. But when she was told no one would be filling the position next year, she was livid.

“This decision is a completely embarrassing and disgraceful action,” Rohrbach told the Salem-Keizer School Board Tuesday night. “It is appalling, deplorable and downright lazy to take away vital assistance that students in our district need, for the sole purpose of solving a budget issue.”

Tuesday evening, the board adopted a $1.1 billion budget for the 2018-19 school year.

Outlined in the budget was an increase of $2 million for 75 full-time equivalent adult assistant positions. But those positions don’t fully cover the more than 250 people who had temporary single-year assisting positions this year.

Read the original story at StatesmanJournal.com

This change ultimately affects hundreds of staff members across Salem-Keizer Public Schools and countless students — including those who receive these services and their peers.

Adult assistants work directly with students with disabilities and behavioral problems to keep them, their peers and the school staff safe and focused on lessons.

District officials said they had to hire an unprecedentedly high number of temporary assistants this year to address the student need. But the district is not able to sustain that level of temporary hires within next year’s budget constraints, officials told the Statesman Journal.

Many educators, parents and advocates spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, pleading with the board to keep the positions. They also shared their frustrations with how the district has handled and communicated the staffing changes.

Rohrbach told the board about her first week of school, meeting one of her students and asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer — “I want to be a smart boy.”

“Now he’s going to go into yet another grade level he is not prepared for, and there will be nobody sitting in that classroom to give him the one-on-one support he needs to access general ed curriculum,” she said.

“How dare you take that away from him.”

School budget limitations

Not renewing temporary adult assistants is, according to district officials, a “strategy to stay within the budget and provide long-term, sustainable staffing processes so service levels stay consistent within recent years.”

In other words, they don’t have the money to maintain this year’s larger temporary staff, even though they recognize the students’ need is still there.

The 2018-19 budget includes $691 million that primarily makes up the general fund, plus $424 million coming from the first allotment of the recently approved capital-construction bond.

But the budget also has to account for inflationary costs to maintain current services. As a result, the new budget includes millions of dollars worth of both additions and cuts.

For the last few years, Salem-Keizer has increased the number of permanent adult assistants employed by the district, starting at about 330 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in 2016-17, increasing to 400 in 2017-18 and budgeting for nearly 473 in 2018-19.

But even with more than 400 employed this year, schools still had to request additional help to handle the increasing number of students who needed them.

Adult, one-on-one assistants work directly with one or more students who need additional academic, social and emotional support. They often help explain curriculum, help them manage their emotions and have to physically step in if the students are harming themselves or others.

As Rohrbach explained it: “I help to give them access to general education curriculum … not because the classroom teacher can’t, but because that teacher has an average of 30 other students to attend to, each with individual learning needs of their own.”

As the need for these professionals grew this school year, the district hired more temporary adult assistants than previous years.

But to continue this trajectory would have implications in the millions of dollars outside the approved budget, said district spokeswoman Lillian Govus.

As a result, the temporary hires were told recently they wouldn’t be returning next year.

On the budget: Here’s how Salem-Keizer officials plan to use your money in 2018-19

Govus said all temporary employees’ contracts end at the end of the school year, or on June 30, and district officials provide them notice based on that timeline.

A total of 252 people had limited-term positions that ended, Govus said. This compares to the 140 people who had limited-term positions last year.

Now, since the superintendent, budget committee and school board have approved $2 million to go toward 75 new FTE adult assistants, temporary assistants can apply and are being encouraged to do so.

“We have a heartbreaking budget situation,” said school board member Sheronne Blasi. “However, this is a recognized priority and … we recognize these challenges and the importance of focusing on this.”

The source of this issue, Blasi said, comes from how funding is allocated on the local and state level for social-emotional issues and behaviors.

“Overwhelmingly, it comes down to how do we best serve the students, but also how do we protect the teachers and administrators in the classrooms,” she said.

What students, families may see

When asked how many students this change affects, Govus said that couldn’t be answered.

“Some students may only use an adult assistant for a brief period one time,” she said. Additional factors — including behavioral assessments, the age of the student and safety considerations — are taken into account as well.

Govus and other officials claim this won’t change how the students are served, saying student support may shift from a dedicated adult to multiple adults, but they “will support all students’ needs.”

Some parents aren’t convinced. And parents had not been notified of the pending changes.

Cynthia Stinson testified that her three children, all of whom work with one-on-one adult assistants, won’t get the support they require next year.

“I, too, urge you to look at your math and also to look at your messaging,” Stinson told the board. “There is a group of parents and educators … in this town that (is) greatly concerned about these children.

“They are our hearts and they deserve an education.”

District officials insist this is the best decision for the children.

“It actually creates a more sustainable form of support since they will be permanent,” Govus said. “Students’ needs will be supported, but one adult may provide support to more than one student.”

When asked if the parents have been notified, Govus said there was nothing to notify them about.

“This is not a reduction of permanent positions,” she said. “The contracts for these positions always end at the end of the year.”

In the fall, Govus said, district and school officials will assess the students’ needs and match them to the staffing allocations.

What teachers say they fear

A handful of Salem-Keizer staff also testified at the meeting Tuesday, sharing their experience as adult assistants, what it entails and why it’s important.

Jen Stacy from McKay High School in Salem argues having fewer adult assistants will inevitably cause burn out and increase injuries to the remaining staff, an increase of injuries to students, staff not receiving their legally required breaks and lunches, and students not receiving the education to which they are legally entitled.

“With less staff and more need, the injuries, property damage, property loss, calls to security and cases of students failing classes will all rise,” she said, reading from a letter she and her team at McKay wrote.

As instructional assistants, Stacy and her colleagues are responsible for more than many may realize.

They take the kids to the bathroom, clean them, change their diapers, catheterize them, feed them, administer medication, get bit, scratched and cursed at, all while trying to teach them, she said.

“Instructional assistants are the building blocks to the special needs programs in our district,” Stacy said. “We are important. We are not interchangeable.”

Stacy and her colleagues also fear this will hold students behind because they won’t get the additional academic support and individualized attention they need.

“Students failing because a lack of staff is not an acceptable option,” she said. “Education will no longer be the focus in our classroom — survival will be.”

Moving forward, Superintendent Christy Perry said officials plan to discuss options for the coming year. Since the budget has been adopted, changes won’t be made to add additional instructional assistants other than the 75 FTE already allotted.

For more information, contact the district at https://salkeiz.k12.or.us/ or call 503-399-3001.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Salem-Keizer students beat the odds, honored at special ceremonies

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Not every student grows up expecting to graduate from high school.

Take Jenneffer Martinez. At age 14, she became pregnant and dropped out of school.

It wasn’t until her daughter was a little older when Martinez decided she needed to set an example and finish earning her diploma.

Now 18, Martinez will be the first person in her family to graduate from high school.

Martinez isn’t alone in her accomplishment. In fact, she’s one of the hundreds of students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools who was honored this year for reaching the finish line against stiff odds.

Read the original story at StatesmanJournal.com

The district hosts a handful of ceremonies every spring for students who had a harder time completing their K-12 education for a variety of reasons.

One ceremony is the Turnaround Achievement Awards, which recognizes middle and high school students who turned their life around in the face of adversity — some were pregnant, some had issues at home, others were homeless.

Another is the Eagle Feather ceremony, which honors Native American students in the district, a classification of students with one of the lowest graduation rates of any traditionally marginalized group.

And finally, there’s the AVID graduation ceremony, which acknowledges the hard work of students in the Advancement Via Individualized Determination program, designed to help students who wouldn’t otherwise have the support or resources to go to college.

Together, these events help recognize students who faced additional obstacles and still earned a diploma or GED, setting them and their communities up for future success.

Turnaround Achievement Awards

Even before Martinez became pregnant, she didn’t see herself graduating.

“I was angry at the world and thought the world owed me something,” she said. “I thought schools hated me and I hated schools.”

So she dropped out. And she didn’t realize how important education was until her daughter reminded her.

Martinez thought, “If I want to be successful and I want to see my daughter be successful, I have to be the example.”

Martinez started applying herself once she enrolled in Robert High School’s teen parent program and got the support she needed.

There, she was able to pursue her own coursework while her daughter, Mia, now 3, was cared for in a nearby classroom with the other children.

And because of that work, Martinez, now 18, earned her diploma on time.

Martinez was honored with more than 20 students from across Salem-Keizer in the district’s annual Turnaround Achievement Awards ceremony in Keizer on May 23.

The event began with a lunch for the honorees, their families and their friends. A staff member from each school was called to speak about the work the students did to get this far.

Nine students honored at this year’s event also crossed the graduation stage at their individual schools’ commencement ceremonies.

MORE: Why summer learning matters

“These awards are a small way for us to recognize students who faced and overcame extraordinary obstacles and made a commitment to making new, positive changes in their lives,” said Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry in a statement.

Martinez attended with her mom, the one person she said stayed by her through everything.

“If you’re actually committed to becoming successful,” Martinez said, “no matter what obstacles you face, you can overcome them.”

Martinez now plans to study psychology and sociology at Chemeketa Community College in Salem for two years. She wants to become a police officer and focus on addressing domestic violence.

Mia dreams of becoming a firefighter.

Eagle Feather Graduation Celebration

Evan Harvey watched his brother earn an eagle feather upon graduating last year, a moment that significantly impacted him.

“The whole experience for him was surreal,” he said. “He loved it as much as I did.”

Every May, all Native American students registered with the district’s Indian Education department who earn a diploma or GED are honored at the Eagle Feather Graduation Celebration.

The ceremony includes a color guard, drum ceremony, the gifting of graduates and a reception.

This year, the event was held on May 30 in the McNary High School auditorium in Keizer. More than 60 graduating seniors were honored.

Harvey, a senior at McNary and member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said the ceremony celebrates the students while wishing them well in the next chapter of their lives.

MORE: Salem-Keizer Public Schools short on mental-health services for students

Harvey, 18, plans to study at the University of Oregon this fall, majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing. He hasn’t decided yet if he wants to minor in German or international business.

“Once I finish college, I want to have something to look back on, something that I can be proud that I’ve done, aside from just obtaining a degree,” he said.

“I think (because of) the people I’ve grown up with and my heritage, I think working with (Native American) students is something they could really benefit from.”

This year, there weren’t enough eagle feathers available through the permit process for each of the students honored in the ceremony.

Some families, including Harvey’s, decided to pass down an eagle feather that was already received by someone else.

MORE: Oregon’s Native American students face obstacles to stay in, complete school

Harvey said the ceremonial eagle feathers are extremely sacred and come with great symbolism. But the feather and ceremony don’t just honor the heritage of the students; it honors the hard work they put in to fight the odds.

In Oregon, Native American students graduate at lower rates, perform worse on state assessments, attend fewer days and receive more suspensions and expulsions than their peers, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

For graduation rates alone, Oregon’s Native American students are graduating at about 56 percent, compared to the state’s overall four-year graduation rate of 74.8 percent.

“Native American students … are so historically disadvantaged — financially, academically — and that’s been a problem that the PAC’s been trying to solve for as long as we can remember,” Harvey said.

“Once out of college, my goal is to try and get those students … the support they need.”

AVID Senior Recognition Night

Come fall, West Salem High School senior Maya Vences will begin her collegiate career at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, studying to become a mental health nurse.

But that wasn’t always her goal.

In fact, while a student at Walker Middle School in Salem, Vences remembers thinking she’d never go to college.

She wasn’t a star student, she struggled with mental illness and her family was dealing with issues regarding her mother’s Bipolar 1 disorder.

Yet when Vences overheard an announcement about the school’s Advancement Via Individual Determination program, also known as AVID, she figured that could be her shot.

MORE: Salem-Keizer seniors celebrated, students inspired with Parade of Honor

AVID is a national program that strives to prepare young students for college and life after education.

While in the program, students are provided academic, social and financial support, given help with college visits, talks with families and more. The program is designed to help students who wouldn’t usually have the support or resources to go to college.

Vences recalled the Bipolar episodes her mother had before she herself was diagnosed with the same disorder, as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and experienced a psychotic episode.

“I just remember being in the hospital and being scared all the time,” Vences said. “That was my life for about a month.”

MOREVoters approve Salem-Keizer school bond, district begins next steps

Vences went through multiple hospitals around the state, seeking help. Eventually, she was able to get the support she needed and learned, along the way, what she wanted to do with her future.

“I saw the impact that the nurses had on my life,” Vences said. “It was just amazing to see that these people could really improve people’s health, mentally, and just be there.”

Vences hard work paid off. She was recently recognized as this year’s Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year for Oregon and was one of about 250 AVID students across the district honored at North Salem High School on May 9 for the AVID Senior Recognition Night.

At the event, student speakers presented, teachers were also given awards and recognition and after the ceremony, students celebrated in the gym with cupcakes.

Vences said the AVID program was a large part of her academic career and personal growth.

MORE50 percent of Salem-Keizer special education students don’t graduate

The program taught her how to be organized, how to ask more in-depth questions in class and how to speak publicly, to name a few benefits. But more than that, it provided her with a family, a support network.

“Working with AVID has opened doors for me,” Vences said. “I don’t come from a background where people go to college.”

She said AVID lays out the steps on how to get to there. It shaped her confidence as a student and gave her the support to reach higher.

“AVID has given me that motivation to stay on track and make myself proud, and also my parents proud,” she said.

MORECentral High School students win medals at national academic decathlon

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

50 percent of Salem-Keizer special education students don’t graduate

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About half of Salem-Keizer’s special needs students are not graduating on time.

The district’s nearly 6,750 students with Individualized Education Programs — a designation to access special services — have a four-year graduation rate of 49.9 percent. The state target is 78 percent.

Other Oregon school districts perform much better.

For example, West Linn-Wilsonville and Woodburn school districts are only 10 percentage points below the goal, while Silver Falls schools are about three points above.

MORE: Should educators use restraint and seclusion techniques on special education students? 

Beaverton and Portland districts are about 20 percentage points under the target, but still above Salem-Keizer Public School’s graduation results.

Salem-Keizer’s special education students also are dropping out at higher rates, with only a fraction going on to enroll in additional education or secure any kind of employment.

These data come from the latest special education reports released by the Oregon Department of Education, based on 2015-16 Parent Involvement Survey data.

Despite low graduation rates for special ed students, Salem-Keizer officials say there has been substantial progress to achieve their latest results.

The district achieved a seven percentage point increase to reach its four-year graduation rate. As a result, the five-year rate decreased. And the district has upped the amount of time these students join their peers in regular classes.

But for every year Salem-Keizer’s numbers remain low, special ed students, their families and their communities pay, both financially and personally.

Student forced to find a different path

CJ Larsen, 18, was told countless times throughout middle and high school that he would never be able to graduate.

The Salem student grew up with severe Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and dyslexia.

By the time he was entering his junior year, he only had six credits accumulated for a diploma. Students need 24 credits to graduate.

“They kept telling me to stop getting his hopes up,” said Tina Larsen, CJ’s mother.

Focusing in class was a challenge as Larsen fidgeted and wanted to learn by working with his hands.

He understood the material well and always did his homework, but his grades remained low. He wasn’t turning in the completed assignments because, in his mind, they weren’t good enough.

“I don’t use my disabilities as a crutch,” he said. “They, in a lot of aspects, are … blessings in disguise.

“Like, I may not be able to read faster than other people, but my brain works really well with numbers and calculating.”

Larsen and his mom figured out how to learn his way. When tackling reading, for example, that meant looking at books upside down and in a mirror.

But he wasn’t getting that kind of help at school. So Larsen decided he had to either drop out or transfer to Roberts High School’s Downtown Learning Center, an alternative program in the district.

Students who don’t earn a diploma are at greater risk of relying on social services, according to the Foundation of Educational Choice, also known as EdChoice.

This costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more every year in Medicaid, lost tax revenue and incarceration costs.

Larsen was able to eventually transfer to the center, where he was given individualized support and allowed to learn by using his body — whether that was tapping his foot, clicking his pen or engaging in hands-on learning.

“They helped me grow in a way a normal school wouldn’t,” he said. “They made me want to go back to school, want to learn again.”

Larsen eventually took the General Educational Development diploma test. He didn’t want to take the modified version or request additional time. And he didn’t have to.

He passed easily and soon was planning out his schedule for when he attends the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland.

“After so many years of your teachers telling you that you’d never amount to anything … and you finally succeed at something… it’s hard and it’s emotional … and it feels good,” he said.

Barriers in class

Historically, students with disabilities have had the lowest graduation rate, said Eric Richards, director of Salem-Keizer’s Student Services.

And each student receiving special education services has their own issues.

Some may face a variety of traumatic experiences that impact their ability to learn, he explained. Others may experience physical or mental health challenges that interfere with attendance.

And some may not have a parent or family member who is actively engaged in their education, Richards said, and research shows that “parental participation enhances educational outcomes.”

“These are … a few of the many unique, individual challenges a student with disabilities might experience,” he said.

One of the largest challenges these students face, he said, is being underestimated and not challenged enough.

That was definitely the case with Larsen, who spent much of his time at Sprague High School coloring rather than learning math he needed to graduate.

“With each year, educators … are learning more and more about how to help students with disabilities graduate prepared for a successful adult life,” Richards said.

He said evidence shows holding high expectations for these students, and increasing the opportunities they have to take more general education classes with their peers, leads to higher graduation rates.

Other factors that help get these students graduate, he explained, include accurate and timely services, an “appropriate level of state and federal funding,” training and professional development for staff and long-term, transitional planning with parents.

“If one or more of these factors is not going well,” he said, “it can create a barrier to graduation.”

Salem-Keizer vs. other districts

When the Oregon Department of Education released the latest reports in April, Salem-Keizer officials were quick to defend their results.

“Our performance outlined in this particular report card is a story of success and improvement,” Richards said in a press release. “However, the report also reveals the need for continued improvement in other areas.”

When asked about the low graduation rates, Richards and other officials pointed out the number of students receiving special education services who graduated with a regular diploma in their four-year cohort was actually an increase of seven percentage points from the previous year.

And when asked why the post-secondary outcomes are so low, they said it was a coding issue.

“When reviewing the previous year’s report, (Salem-Keizer) was performing at or near the target levels for all post-secondary measures,” Richards said. “The dramatic change in one year was evidence that the 2015-16 data is a true outlier.”

The report states only 5.1 percent of Salem-Keizer students using district special needs services were enrolled in higher education after leaving the district in the last year. The state target is 30 percent.

The report states only 26.5 percent of these students were enrolled in higher education or employed. The state target is 55.5 percent.

And the report states 37.8 percent of Salem-Keizer students were either enrolled in high education or training program, competitively employed or are in some other employment. The state target is 72 percent.

During the 2015-16 year, the district made a change from one technology system to another, resulting in inaccurate data being reported under post-secondary outcomes, officials said.

District officials asked the department to allow them to correct the error, but were denied.

But when asked what the correct numbers would be, Richards and other officials said there would be no way of knowing — they would have to call all the parents from the survey.

“The targets are set very high,” Richards told the Statesman Journal. “They (state officials) expect excellence.”

Several other districts are reaching, if not surpassing, many of the objectives.

West Linn-Wilsonville School District, for example, is just shy of the four-year graduation rate target of 78 percent, coming in at 76.6 percent.

Andrew Kilstrom, a spokesman for West Linn-Wilsonville, said this success can be attributed to a handful of tactics.

More from Salem-Keizer: Here’s what to expect if the Salem-Keizer bond passes

For example, the district makes sure schools throughout the district are equipped with the services they need to teach and support these students.

Additionally, he said, they ensure as many students with individualized education programs as possible are in the classroom with their general education peers. This is seen by the 85.7 percent of students included in regular class 80 percent or more of the day.

Woodburn School District also is surpassing almost all of the post-secondary goals and is above the state target for the five-year graduation rate.

Silver Falls School District, based in Silverton, is surpassing even the four-year graduation rate with 81.4 percent of its special needs students graduating on time, compared to the 78 percent state target.

Richards said Salem-Keizer is working to make graduation and post-secondary options more obtainable to these students through a “whole host of strategies,” such as changing their curriculum, scheduling dedicated intervention time and filing more frequent progress reports to help identify trouble areas.

But Richards says this work takes time and will reflect in data down the road.

“People know we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

To see the state special education reports by district, go to https://www.ode.state.or.us/data/ReportCard/sped/.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Homeless family fights to keep son off streets at night

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The decision was made — Claudia Campos and her eight-year-old son Jimmy would stay at Simonka Place women’s shelter in Keizer. Her husband, Oscar, and their 14-year-old son AJ would sleep on the streets.

The Campos family had been homeless for over a month, but they’d been able to keep the children from sleeping outside until July of last year.

In Marion County, there are few shelters that will take full families. And they frequently come with waiting lines weeks or months long.

Many families have to decide whether it’s better to split up, especially when they have sons between the ages of 12 and 18 — they are too old to stay at the women’s and family shelters, but too young to stay at the men’s shelters.

“When you risk not having your kids with you — or knowing you don’t have a place for them to sleep at night — it takes over your mind,” Claudia Campos said. “You feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’m useless.'”

There are currently 11 families staying at the shelter. The 12th slot is saved for emergency, last-minute situations. Families are expected to stay about six months, but that can vary by situation.

Oscar and Claudia said more shelters in the area should take entire families and expand their services.

“There are a lot of families out there going through the same thing; they’re separated from their kids,” Claudia said. “It’s overwhelming and it’s very difficult to … leave them with someone else.”

She said shelters also need to provide more resources to help them become self-sufficient.

At St. Joseph’s, Claudia has been able to train for office work and learn how to apply for future positions. She’s also learning how to save money and budget their expenses.

“Other shelters, they tell you about the resources, but they don’t help you,” Oscar said. At St. Joseph, “they tell you about the resources and they push you.

“They make you do something (for) yourself,” he said. “They push you … to do better.”

Claudia and Oscar have tried to focus on the things that bring them and their children joy as they transition to more permanent housing.

Oscar loves to cook and Claudia likes to bake. AJ is a music enthusiast — he plays some piano, percussion for his high school band and the guitar, which he taught himself by watching YouTube videos.

Jimmy loves all things Lego. He likes to build a spaceship, take it apart and build it again in a new way. And while he said he isn’t a master quite yet, he loves to play Minecraft.

“Sometimes people outside don’t understand what it means to not have a home,” Claudia said. “Even if we don’t have a permanent house … we try to do everything (we can) so the kids know we are here with them, that we’re never gonna leave them.”

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Student mental health crisis spurs Oregon to try in-school programs

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Originally published 12:42 p.m. PT March 1, 2018 | Updated 2:35 p.m. PT March 2, 2018

For Salem school psychologist Chris Moore, it isn’t uncommon to see a student come to school, settle into a routine and then, without warning, go into crisis.

Maybe the student punches another kid in the face, flips over a desk and curses at the teacher, Moore said. Then they run out of the school. And the teacher has to chase after them.

“In their mind, they are trying to survive,” he said.

Severe depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are some of the increasingly prevalent and least-understood mental health disorders among K-12 students.

About one in five — 20 percent — youth nationwide are affected by some type of mental disorder to such an extent they have difficulty functioning, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Salem-Keizer Public School’s rate is even higher — closer to one in four of the district’s nearly 42,000.

One student’s story: “I need him to be a successful human being.”

The pervasiveness of mental health issues and child suicide rates leads Oregon to rank as the worst state in the country for mental illness. And the state’s lack of child psychiatrists and school counselors leaves families waiting for months to get help.

This significantly reduces students’ odds of completing their education, ending up unemployed and adding long-term financial impact on the communities where they live.

But more subtle effects are felt, too, such as the persistent stigma associated with asking for help with mental health.

Though schools aren’t fully equipped to handle intense, mental health issues, some Oregon districts are starting to develop ways to bring services to students.

Salem-Keizer has partnered with Marion and Polk counties and Trillium Family Services, one of the largest mental and behavioral health care providers for families in Oregon,to fill part of the gap in services and lower the waiting time for families.

In its pilot year, on-site outpatient programs have been established at Washington and Brush College elementary schools, Crossler Middle School and McKay High School.

District officials and school counselors say the change has delivered substantial progress, but it’s not enough.

The district plans to expand into seven more schools before the end of this school year — Hoover, Hallman, Battle Creek and Myers elementary schools and Judson, Waldo and Walker middle schools.

“This is about the mental health of our country and whether people feel a sense of belonging to their community,” Moore said.

Too scared to learn

Students respond to mental health crises differently. But Moore has seen attacks involving punching, hitting, kicking and spitting on a regular basis.

Some have destroyed property or choked peers and staff.

Moore said about 5 percent, or 2,000 students, in the district engage in that extreme behavior.

“The priority for a kid is to feel safe in school,” he said. “Our teachers really want to know what to do.”

Of Medicaid recipients in Marion and Polk counties alone, more than 9,180 children who are 17 years old or younger have a mental health condition, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Moore said only 20 percent of those who have been diagnosed are receiving services. And it’s not always the right care.

“Step one is just awareness,” he said.

It’s important for educators to understand how trauma — emotional and physical — affects the brain, Moore said, that there may not be an environmental trigger that sets the brain off and that there are things a person can do to reduce the impact of the trauma students have experienced.

But there are still students whose needs “far exceed even that level of intervention,” Moore said, explaining mental illness and trauma often go hand-in-hand.

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Some students go home to physical abuse, emotional trauma or neglect from a family member, and it “erases all the work they’ve done that day.”

“We definitely have kids who have complex needs,” said David Fender, the coordinator of Salem-Keizer’s Office of Behavioral Learning. “Staff are doing the best that they can.”

Wraparound services, which connect school staff and medical professionals with families on a frequent basis, are among recommended practices.

Additionally, services offered in Salem-Keizer include providing paraprofessionals, coordinating with outside providers, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports curriculum and managing follow-up care, Fender said.

Each school in Salem-Keizer has a student support team that meets weekly.

“We don’t look at mental and physical health as separate,” Moore said.

“When our line of inquiry moves from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’ or ‘What is happening to you?’ an important shift begins to take place not only in the way we think about trauma and mental health,” he said, “but also in how we feel (about) the lived experience of our most vulnerable populations and … of ourselves.”

The school’s responsibility

Traditionally, a school’s responsibility is to provide the environment and support needed for 12 grades of instruction.

Typical markers of success are graduation, dropout and attendance rates because they get to the core requirement of a school — to get the students through the primary and secondary education systems.

Ideally, schools also provide students with skills for life after graduation, whether in higher education or the workforce.

But when a student is battling a mental health disorder, focusing and learning can slip out of reach.

And if they don’t get help, they quickly can become just another unfortunate statistic — part of Oregon’s fourth-worst in the nation graduation rate.

Absenteeism also is a serious impediment.

Oregon students with disabilities, which includes students with mental health disorders, are among the most likely student groups to be chronically absent, with only 73 percent of students with disabilities attending school regularly.

This heightens their risk of not earning a diploma.

On average, more than $170 million in tax revenue is lost each year due to the decreased earnings of high school dropouts, according to a report by the Foundation of Educational Choice, also known as EdChoice.

Additionally, more than 40 percent of high school dropouts receive Medicaid benefits, costing the state more than $200 million in annual Medicaid costs.

And they are twice as likely to be incarcerated, a $37 million annual cost to taxpayers.

Federal and statewide laws and programs have been enacted to help students with mental health disorders before they reach the point of dropping out. These include the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Individual Education Plans (IEP) and 504 plans.

But experts say a lot more has to be done to get students to the finish line and to be successful after the race.

For professionals like Richard Blum with Trillium Family Services, it’s about providing services and support and breaking down the notion that it’s bad to ask for help in the first place.

“The goal,” he said, “is (for) kids to be as comfortable going to get help for mental health as they would be if they fell on the playground, scraped their knee and went to the nurse.”

It takes a village

When asked if schools are equipped to address mental health issues, Crossler Middle School staff said, “In a word, ‘No.’ ”

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of serious mental health issues that we are not equipped (to handle),” said Donna Burnett, a counselor at Crossler.

Statewide, Oregon averages one counselor to 600 students, one of the worst ratios in the country.

In Salem-Keizer, it’s closer to one counselor per 400 students. At Crossler, there are 1.7 full-time counselors for the school’s 850 kids.

That’s one of the reasons the school was selected as the first of Salem-Keizer’s 65 schools to partner with Trillium Family Services.

Staff said the added resource has made a tremendous difference but they still need more help.

In addition to destructive behavior, Burnett and other Crossler counselors are seeing a higher rate of self-harm.

When Burnett started as a school counselor 20 years ago, she would file one or two suicide assessments a year. In the last few years, she’s filed two or three a week.

“When you have a student like that, they need a lot of intense attention and intervention,” she said. “We are not able to do that with so many kids.”

Burnett said the school contacts the parents and suggest, if they have insurance, to get the student into counseling outside of school. But that usually takes two or three months before they can be seen due to the lack of child psychiatrists.

In 2015, Oregon only had 12 child and adolescent psychiatrists for every 100,000 children ages 17 and younger, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Across the United States, there is an estimated one psychiatrist per 1,807 children who need services.

“When they are in a crisis state, that is unacceptable,” Burnett said.

She said Crossler’s staff does what it can to check in on students, but “it’s not the same as a student getting confidential, intense, personal therapy.”

Burnett’s counseling counterpart at Crossler, Michelle Roos, recently helped a student in crisis when the Trillium specialist wasn’t there.

“You have to take the student under your wing and make a safety plan, and they are with you until you can talk with the parents (and) get (them) in the car safely,” she said. “You’re talking about one or two hours.”

Roos said “school counseling wasn’t really designed to work like” that because counselors are then unavailable for the rest of the student body.

“There are a lot of other things we do,” she said, including collaborating with other agencies, serving as part of leadership teams and offering academic support.

That’s why having a Trillium counselor in the school a couple times a week has made a significant impact.

“All we have to do is contact the parents, let them know … we have this service here. The students are able to be seen on campus usually within two weeks,” Burnett said. “It’s like an outside service; it’s just housed here.”

This also allows the parents to stay at work and not take time off.

Blum of Trillium said the programs provide a free, consistent source of care to the students. “It’s like this anchor they’ve got where they have all their needs met,” he said.

“We need … intensive, mental health crisis counseling on campus at every school in Salem-Keizer,” Roos said.

“It can’t just be on the parents, the school or the police department,” she said. “Everyone across the board has to help raise America’s children.”

Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. Contact Natalie at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

More information

A list of mental health services available to people on the Oregon Health Plan can be viewed at www.mvbcn.org/ohp-members/mental-health-services/.

More information for residents in Marion and Polk counties can be found by contacting the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network, located in Salem, at 503-361-2647. 

Crisis lines:

Marion County

  • Psychiatric Crisis Center: 503-585-4949
  • Youth & Family Crisis Center: 503-576-4673

Polk County

  • Crisis Services: 503-623-9289
  • After 5 p.m.: 503-581-5535

Other numbers to know:

  • Community Resources: 211
  • Oregon Health Plan Info & Enrollment: 800-699-9075
  • Transportation: 503-315-5544
  • Warm Line: 800-698-2392

 

Analysis: How teens are driving Florida shooting debate

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Originally published 11:29 p.m. PT Feb. 24, 2018 | Updated 10:04 a.m. PT Feb. 26, 2018

The youth of America are sending a very loud message — grownups are not doing their job.

From Parkland, Florida, to Washington, D.C., to Salem, Oregon, teenagers are speaking against gun violence in a way only they can.

This value-based generation, armed with the Internet and social media, may be the first group of its size since the diner sit-ins and Flower Power of the ’60s to garner such nationwide support and attention.

Generation Zers grew up in a country at war with terrorism, recovering from the Great Recession.

Using their savvy, they can mobilize millions of people quickly, at little to no cost. And the voices they amplify belong to children fighting for their futures, making it difficult for even partisan leaders to criticize without committing political suicide.

These students have been primed over the last few years to think of themselves as activists, national experts say, and to think of this as a moment when activism is required.

They watched as hundreds of thousands participated in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and walked in the women’s and climate rallies. They saw students march out of class in support of DACA. And they observed millions turning to social media to discuss sexual harassment and assault with #MeToo and #TimesUp.

So when 17 people were killed in the Parkland massacre this month, they knew there was more than a social cause at stake. It was about staying alive.

And they didn’t ask for permission.

Within a week, they created a website and mobilized thousands of youth and supporters across the United States. They’ve organized school walkouts and nationwide marches. They’ve debated politicians and looked directly into television cameras to say, “We won’t be silenced.”

And they can’t stop. Because if they do, they may die.

It’s working: Northeast governors form coalition to address gun violence

Playing by new rules

Before Feb. 14, Alfonso Calderon was worried about a math test. But with an active shooter in his school, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior hid in a closet for four hours with others crying, weeping and begging for their lives.

He texted his parents: “Goodbye. I may never, ever get to see you again. I love you.”

“I understand what it’s like to fear for your life,” Calderon said as he addressed a crowd at the Florida Capitol last Wednesday. “I don’t think we should ever be silenced because we are just children.

“That is powerful and it’s one of the only reasons this movement is where it is now.”

He’s right. Something is different when children take the mic and tell the country they can’t and won’t wait years or decades for change — and they don’t want thoughts or prayers either.

“They don’t play by the old rules,” said Angus Johnston, a history professor and student activism expert from City University of New York. “They are willing to do things and say things their elders are not.”

Students have played a crucial role in social change throughout history, from the civil rights movement to South African apartheid to marriage equality.

They protested the Vietnam War as visceral images of combat burst into American living rooms. And just a few years ago, they organized demonstrations after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

But today’s cohort of children, the Generation Zers, has a unique quality unlike those of the past. They are one of the most diverse generations yet. They only know the U.S. as a country at war.

And they grew up with the Internet and social media not only present, but as a fundamental part of life.

When tragedy strikes, they record and live-stream. They create hashtags to coordinate digital messages. They network with people outside their hometowns. They expose themselves to different perspectives and cultural bubbles instantaneously.

“They have this expectation that you can link together digitally and they will figure out how to do it without asking anyone’s permission,” said Danilo Campos, an educator and technology expert from Brooklyn, New York.

Last October, students from Salem-Keizer Public Schools protested at the Oregon Capitol over mandatory reporting rules regarding teens’ sexual activity. They created an online petition, collected more than 4,500 signatures and convinced the state Legislature to revamp state law.

And this week, about 200 McKay High School students walked out to protest school safety concerns. Many more Salem-area teens plan to participate in the national walkouts in March and April.

This ability to connect and mobilize is something vastly underestimated, Campos argues, and it’s redefining the world.

Students protest, ‘Never again!’Florida shooting survivors confront lawmakers; protests gain steam nationwide

Just like combat footage from Vietnam and the Rodney King beating video in the 1990s, the moving images circulating on social media, and the messages that accompany them, change the narrative the country has been fed in the past.

And like political debates on Facebook with friends and family, the use of social media and the strength of teen voices makes it personal.

“What they had to say was unmediated,” Johnston said, adding they didn’t melt down when challenged. “There was no barrier to them and getting the word out.”

These teens are the survivors of a shooting massacre. They are sharing their hurt, pain and anger and, as Campos said, “They don’t have to convince a news editor that it matters.”

Campos said this movement is recruiting people who see “these folks are just like me,” and, beyond that, making it so the problem can’t just go away.

School shootings are horrifying to the majority of Americans, regardless of state, political party, race, age, economic status, gender or sexuality.

Every student, every parent and every educator can be affected.

“A lot of us, young and not so young, have had this building sense of horror … that something has gone deeply, deeply wrong,” Johnston said. “We need to act now because things are … getting worse.

“Young people … bring a sense of urgency.”

Activism turns to influence

Teenagers’ anger and mobilization over the Florida deaths shouldn’t be a surprise. National experts say earlier movements have been laying the groundwork.

Students watched the country react negatively to Colin Kaepernick, the Black Lives Matter movement, the women’s march. They saw multiple states tighten laws to restrict protests. They witnessed the screaming matches on Facebook and Twitter.

And this could have taught impressionable young people that activism is ineffective, that America sees protesters as selfish, naïve and dangerous. But instead, teens learned they have a moral imperative to stand up, and that their voices matter.

“Our children are not our future,” said Mathew Poteet of the Chemewa Indian School in Oregon at a march on MLK Jr. Day. “They are here, they are today. And they are watching.”

Opinion: Students, educators can learn together through protests

study by two University of Michigan professors in the early 1990s found students were more likely to protest the Persian Gulf War if their parents protested the Vietnam War in the 60s — a not-so-distant past as students read about activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahātmā Gandhi in their textbooks.

And in the last five years, students have seen people use activism to change the national conversation.

There is a “fertile ground for organizing now,” Johnston said. Black Lives Matter, DREAMers and the MeToo movement have primed young people to see activism as not only a viable option, but as perhaps the only thing that will make a difference.

Even people who otherwise didn’t see themselves as activists are showing up.

Last year, hundreds of students from McKay High School in Salem walked out of class in support of DREAMers, an action that was mirrored in cities nationwide. Many were DACA recipients themselves, putting them and their families in potential danger by being there.

But they said they had no choice.

“A free society is not free of cost,” Campos said. “And if you don’t get up and stand (to) be counted, there’s a possibility you’ll lose that.”

Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, a USA Today property. Contact her at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

More response to the shooting: Florida shooting puts focus on safety plan developed by  Salem-Keizer Public Schools