Friday, June 29, 2018

The Supreme Court

Your blogger has never argued a case before the Supreme Court, although I was admitted as a member of the Supreme Court bar many years ago with other students from my law school alma mater. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Court again, this time as our eldest son was admitted to the Court with members of his law school class. We had the chance to meet in a small group with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We got to attend a reception in the Court building and to sit in the courtroom and listen to the Court issue its decisions in a number of cases before our son and his colleagues were sworn in as members of the Supreme Court bar. It was a very memorable experience.

If you have been on a remote island without access to the internet, you might not be aware that the U.S. Supreme Court is very much in the news today. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will turn 82 in July, has tendered his resignation. Since his appointment by President Reagan in 1987 (he actually took his seat on the Court in early 1988), Justice Kennedy has often served as the "swing vote" on many important cases. His replacement will be appointed by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. It can be expected that Justice Kennedy's replacement will be more conservative than he has been. Since Supreme Court justices have lifetime tenure (unless they resign, as happened here), Justice Kennedy's replacement can be expected to have an impact on our laws for many years to come. 

Whatever your views of the Supreme Court or its future, you might want to take advantage of some excellent materials geared for kids to discuss these current events with your school-aged children.

A real-life story of a current Supreme Court Justice, geared for four through eight year olds (although this adult enjoyed it greatly), is I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy. With lively illustrations to help children access the story, this explanation of how Justice Ginsburg broke down gender barriers throughout her life is a satisfying read. [Adults who enjoy I Dissent might want to read Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.]

A whimsical tale for elementary students, with guides for parents and teachers included, is 

Finally, Channel Thirteen, a PBS station, has a list of resources about the Supreme Court for children and for young adults and teens. Unfortunately, the links in this list are no longer live, but a search engine can help locate these helpful books.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Record Keeping

Most families have a file, or a box, or a drawer into which they place important documents relating to their children. These can be birth certificates, report cards, even artwork or notes written by their kids. But, as parents of older or adult children can attest, after a while these artifacts add up and there can be the temptation on the part of some parents to toss them all out. Other parents keep everything - for sentimental reasons or out of concern that something will be needed one day. The larger the storage area of one's home and the longer between moves, the more boxes can accumulate. And families of students with disabilities -- medical issues, learning difficulties, or both -- have vastly increased number of medical and educational documents.

There has got to be a better balance. Just what should be kept long-term and what can/should be tossed out after a while?

There is an extensive and detailed list of items to be retained -- and created -- by parents of students receiving special education services, prepared by attorney Robert K. Crabtree, an attorney, on the Wrightslaw website "From Emotions to Advocacy." However, this list is an old one and while still quite helpful, doesn't take into consideration ways to digitize many of these records. Many of the documents you will need to keep, especially IEPs and  educational assessments, can run in the dozens of pages. Scanning and storing these and other records makes a lot of sense. Remember to create back up copies of all of these documents, and to index them in a way that will help you find them, probably by subject: "IEPs", "Test Scores", "Correspondence". Within that index you can list items by date, or author, or both.

Note that some documents are important long after they are created. We know of a number of young adults who needed to document their medical history or inoculations for school or work years after they left their pediatrician's practice.  Having a record of whether one has had chicken pox or when they last had a tetanus shot can be important long after the fact. Keep in mind that your child's physicians and school both will keep records, and physicians have legal obligations to retain records for at least several years after a child reaches adulthood. Still, while you may be able to get a record from the pediatrician or school, it is always easier if you have it at your fingertips.

Most documents, once digitized and carefully backed up, can be shredded. This will leave a few items still in paper format, but the reduced number of paper documents and the careful digital storage and indexing of most files means that when something is needed that it can be retrieved quickly and easily. It can be overwhelming to tackle your child's paper records, but the result can make things easier for years to come.

Photo credit:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Kids Can be Lifesavers Too

Summer is a time for being outdoors -- at the beach, pool, park, and elsewhere. But all of these wonderful activities also can result in traumatic situations, including drowning or sudden cardiac arrest. While vigilance is the best way to avoid accidents in the water, we all know that these situations can arise without warning and in a brief moment.

We also know that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automatic external defibrillator can reduce the rate of permanent injury or death when there is a water accident or medical crisis. In fact, early and effective "bystander" CPR has been shown to have a positive impact on the rate of survival and longer term recovery from cardiac arrest. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges the  the training of children, parents, caregivers, school personnel, and the public in the provision of basic life support, including pediatric basic life support, as well as the appropriate use of automated external defibrillators (AED).

What is less discussed is the role that even young children can play in helping in these life-threatening emergencies, whether the victim is a child or adult, and the kind of training that is appropriate at each age level. As of the fall of 2017, the American College of Cardiology found that 39 states required CPR training of high school students, although the specifics of such training varied from state-to-state and not all state laws required AED training. Most training was done in school during a required health class. But children who are old enough to use a phone be trained to call 911 and to seek out an adult to help. Children in the older elementary grades or middle school can be taught the rudiments of CPR - chest compressions to an appropriate tune to set the pace ("Stayin' Alive" is often recommended).

Parents can find out what kind of training their child's school offers. If it doesn't take place until the later grades, or isn't sufficient to truly train a child to react in an emergency, classes at the local Red Cross or through another organization may be the way to go. Empowering children to help in an emergency can be a life-changing experience for all involved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pediatrician Screening for Social Media Use Urged

In the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics, a team from the Baylor School of Medicine has proposed expanding the guidelines for adolescent health screenings to include questions about social media use.

The proposal is based on data that finds teen social use resembles the patterns of substance addiction, with usage increasing over time from an average of 16 minutes a day between ages 10 and 12 to an average of 71 minutes a day during adolescence. Teenage girls report the highest usage, some 142 minutes per day on average. Anxiety during periods of withdrawal increase with age and usage, with 80 percent of college students indicating that they feel anxious when they are not able to access their devices, the authors report.

Furthermore, the proposal notes that research has shown clear relationships between mental health and social media usage. Excessive use of social media may contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in vulnerable teens. In addition, teens with mental illness may use social media to express their thoughts and feelings.

Because of this, the authors believe that pediatricians need to expand the current standard for psychosocial screening: HEADSSS, which stands for questions about:

  • Home life
  • Education
  • Activities
  • Drugs
  • Sexual Activity
  • Safety
  • Suicide and/or depression.
This kind of screening is generally done without a parent in the room, so the teen will be more likely to be open with the physician. An additional "S" for social media usage should be added, the authors urge, and they suggest that pediatricians should ask all patients older than age 11 the following questions:
  • Which social media sites/apps to you use regularly?
  • How long to you spend on social media sites/apps on a typical day? 
    • suggestions are given for how a teen might track this usage
  • Do you think you use social media too much?
    • If the answer is yes, ask if they have tried to fix this
  • Does viewing social media increase or decrease your self confidence?
  • Have you personally experienced cyberbullying, sexting, or someone online asking to have sexual relations with you?
    • The physician may need to explain to the patient what these terms mean
If social media screening raises concerns, the physician may follow up in one of several ways, including follow up visits or referrals to mental health resources. Parents should make sure that their child or teen's physician uses the HEADSSS screening -- and adds the additional "S" to inquire about social media. 

Photo by on Unsplash

Friday, June 8, 2018

Free Speech Issue for Students

Yesterday your blogger attended the Annual School Law Program given by the Practicing Law Institute here in New York City. Each year, this program features expert speakers on issues of interest to attorneys who work in the field of education and this year's program was especially strong, touching on Section 504, the latest court decisions impacting special education, and ethical issues.

One particularly timely topic, presented by Professor Emily Gold Waldman of Pace University Law School, was student protest and speech and how the courts balance the free speech rights of students with the rights of schools to discipline students for their conduct. Although the U.S. Supreme Court cases in this area aren't new, they are certainly timely in this era of political polarization and student activism.

The earliest of the cases presented by Professor Waldman was Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District , from 1969. It involved students who were suspended for wearing black armbands in 1965 to protest the Vietnam war. The school had learned of this plan and had adopted a policy that anyone wearing a black armband would be suspended. The school followed through on its threat and the students sued. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision by Justice Fortas,  found in favor of the students and noted that,

"In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are "persons" under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State." 

The decision went on to state:

"They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression."

The outcome was different in Bethel School District v. Fraser, a 1986 decision weighing in on a 1983 incident where a student was prohibited from delivering a speech filled with sexual innuendo and references. The Supreme Court noted the Tinker decision, but distinguished it from the situation here, and found in favor of the school district, stating,

"It does not follow, however, that, simply because the use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school."

Two other cases help clarify students' rights. Hazelwood School District. v. Kuhlmeier was a 1988 decision upholding the right of a school district to censor student articles in the school paper. The Supreme Court found that because the the school newspaper was sponsored by the school, it could be distinguished from the situation in Tinker. Likewise, in Morse v. Frederick, decided in 2007, when students held up a banner the school deemed to be offensive ("Bong Hits for Jesus") during an Olympic Torch Relay that the school had taken students to watch, outside the school, the Court found the school could discipline the students since the activity was similar to a class trip and “schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use.” 

Students contemplating protests in and around their schools may want to familiarize themselves with these and similar cases, to understand their rights -- and the limitations that schools can place upon them. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer Reading Resources

Summer is a great time for children to take advantage of the often slower pace to build their reading skills. It's not always easy to pry kids from their screens, but there are some excellent resources that can help children grow a love of reading that will last well beyond their school vacation.

Once place to begin is with a summer reading initiative from Reading Rockets, called Start with a Book.

Start with a Book allows kids and parents to start with a topic -- music, inventions, science, and many more -- and suggests books at an appropriate level for kids of all ages. The website also contains tips on the importance of reading aloud, how to build a home library, and how to get kids hooked on reading, during the summer and all year 'round.

Closer to home, here in New York City, the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library all have summer reading programs for kids. The Brooklyn Library program kicks off this coming weekend with activities in all branches.  There are also book lists for all ages, as well as challenge contests. The Queens Library has its kick off event tomorrow, at branch libraries throughout the borough. And the New York City Library has a guide to summer reading, with book lists for all ages.

Help your child find a book and make summer more fun while building skills for the next school year.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Carmel Academy - A Unique Program in Connecticut

Earlier this week, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin had the opportunity to visit Carmel Academy, a private K-8 school located on a lovely 17 acre campus in Greenwich, Connecticut. Carmel is a Jewish day school, and religious instruction and Hebrew language lessons are part of its curriculum.

But what makes Carmel Academy unique is the way it integrates a special education program - Providing Alternative Learning Strategies (PALS) - with the general curriculum in which most Carmel students participate. As Jonathan Holub, the Head of the PALS program, explained during his informative tour of the campus, there is a great deal of fluidity between the regular and the PALS classes. Students in the general education track who need some additional support in a particular subject may become part of a PALS class in that subject. Likewise, PALS students who can handle a more advanced class in one or more subjects may spend part of their day with typically learning students. The class schedule for each grade makes this flexible arrangement possible. Students in the PALS program thus feel very much a part of their grade and typical learners interact with the PALS students in class and across other school activities.

The PALS program notes that its basic tenet is that their students are not expected to to meet the demands of the curriculum; the curriculum is expected to adapt to the needs of the student.

Other notable features of PALS include:
  • Small classes, capped at ten students with two teachers in each class, provide hands-on, multi-sensory instruction. Notably, both general and Judaics teachers have special education training.
  • Instruction is thematic and interdisciplinary, so that subjects are connected across all academic areas. 
  • All students are involved in general and Judaic instruction, but the depth of Judaic instruction is individually determined for each student. 
  • On site professionals include occupational therapy (and a sensory gym), speech and language therapy, Orton-Gillingham and Lindamood-Bell reading specialists, a school psychologist and full time nurse. Outside consultants are brought in when needed. 
Clearly, Carmel is not for every student, even for every student seeking a Jewish day school. The PALS program focuses its curriculum on students with language based learning disabilities and would not a good fit for a student with significant emotional difficulties.

For families seeking a Jewish religious school with integration between special education and regular curriculums, Carmel is definitely worth exploring.