Friday, May 6, 2016

Maryland Disability Law Center 2016 Legislative Report

The 2016 General Assembly session was extraordinarily busy and productive with over 2,850 bills introduced. MDLC provided information regarding the potential impact of bills and budget proposals on Marylanders with disabilities. Our full 2016 Legislative Report is available on our website. Several of the bills MDLC worked on are described below. We thank our supporters, other allies and advocates, General Assembly members, and many others who helped achieve important progress in for people with disabilities in the 2016 Session.
HB 86/SB 421: IEP Translations - MDLC spearheaded this successful effort to require that an IEP or IFSP be translated into a parent's native language, upon request, if the language is spoken by more than 1% of the local student population. The translated document must be provided within 30 days.
SB 950/HB 778: Parental Consent for IEPs - MDLC and the Education Advocacy Coalition led this effort to require parental consent before a school system may take certain actions (placing restraint or seclusion on an IEP, moving a child to alternate assessment/off diploma track, reducing or terminating instructional or related services, or changing school placement). Senate bill amendments turned the substance of the bill into tasks for a workgroup and also merged the bill with parts of a special education "scholarship" (voucher) bill. 
HB 431/SB 355: ABLE Act - Federal law enacted in December 2014 authorized states to establish tax-advantaged savings program to help people with disabilities save limited amounts for disability-related expenses (such as health care, assistive technology, education, employment supports and housing) without losing eligibility for certain public benefits. Maryland legislation enacted in 2015 established the ABLE Task Force to make recommendations for an ABLE Program, resulting in this year's bill. College Savings Plans of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Disabilities and will co-manage the program. Governor Hogan committed $745,000 for program start-up costs and signed the legislation into law on April 12, 2016.
HB682/SB551: Crisis Walk-in Services & Mobile Crisis Teams - This legislation requires the Maryland Behavioral Health Advisory Council (on which MDLC serves) to develop a strategic plan for ensuring that clinical crisis walk-in services and mobile crisis teams are available 24/7 statewide. The plan design must address the need for both mental health and substance use disorder services; include measures to monitor outcomes and to recover payment for services provided to individuals with commercial insurance; and regional models must also be considered.
SB 1005/HB 1312: Justice Reinvestment Act - This bill and its companion measure (HB 1312) were introduced to implement recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council designed to reduce the incarcerated population and spending on corrections, and to reinvest in strategies that increase public safety and reduce recidivism. The bill included several behavioral health-specific provisions.
HB 393/SB 362: Attorney's Fees for Maryland Constitutional Rights Violations - MDLC participated in a coalition led by the Public Justice Center for legislation authorizing an award of reasonable attorney's fees and expenses to a prevailing plaintiff in claims against a state or local government for violations the Maryland Constitution or Declaration of Rights. As with last session, the House bill cleared that chamber while the Senate bill languished in committee.
HB 683/SB 448: Child in Need of Assistance Proceedings, Juvenile Court Jurisdiction & Authority ("Dustin's Bill") - MDLC worked with Advocates for Children and Youth and others on legislation to codify a December 2015 court decision granting a juvenile court continuing jurisdiction in guardianship and CINA cases involving foster youth with developmental disabilities who are transitioning to adult services, to ensure continuity of supports for these vulnerable youth. The bills passed both chambers but failed in conference committee on Sine Die.
HB 1499/SB 413: DD Crisis Resolution - These bills would have required ongoing annual appropriations to serve individuals in "Crisis Resolution," the highest priority category on the Developmental Disabilities Administration's Waiting List, to provide supports to people with developmental disabilities most urgently in need of help. SB 413 passed the Senate but the House bill died in committee without a vote.
HB 1269/SB 223: Discrimination in Public Accommodations - These bills would have expanded the remedies available for discrimination by a place of public accommodation.
HB 579/SB 858: Mental Health Wraparound for Children - These bills would have required the Governor to restore funding for evidence-based Wraparound services to children and youth with intensive behavioral health needs. The bills were withdrawn after the sponsors received written assurance that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will continue to make these services available to Maryland families.

HB 371/SB 819: Independent Living Tax Credit - This legislation would have allowed a State income tax credit for individuals or corporations that incur certain home renovation or construction costs for accessibility and universal design features.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

7 ON YOUR SIDE obtains emails in crumb rubber controversy, Superintendent E-mails Excluded

...For concerned parents like Damm, the delay in addressing a potential concern is frustrating.
"These questions should have been addressed from the start," Damm said when ABC7 showed him the massive pile of emails.
But it appears some in FCPS were initially reluctant to explore other options. In one message one staffer says, "We have not nor do we intend to investigative alternative infills." He cites a Fairfax County Health Department study in the exchange, but no study was done. Instead, FCHD did a review of existing research.
And after concerns were expressed, one staffer wrote, "My primary concern is that it's not advisable to put the projects on the street and have the contractors expend time and money creating estimates if we are not moving ahead with the projects".
"It's your worst fear," Damm said while looking at that exchange, "You hope that's not the case but when you have documents showing that is the case, that that is the primary concern, it makes me feel terrible."...

Against Tough Odds, a High School Arts Program Fosters Success

By Miranda Spivak in the NYT, full article here.

DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md. — Inside a crumbling school building in a neighborhood dotted by pawn shops, fast-food restaurants and strip malls, a security guard is shouting into the girls’ restroom to make sure there are no problems. Outside, a gaggle of boys is smoking. Trash overflows from a bin just beyond the school’s fence.
Oblivious to the grim surroundings, young artists are hard at work inside the building, Suitland High School. Those artists are eager participants in a rigorous, four-year academic and arts program that has survived budget cuts, neighborhood violence and a constant shortage of art supplies. Although the program, the Center for Visual and Performing Arts, founded in 1986, has had dwindling enrollment, it has been a crucible for emerging artists, many of them African-Americans, and some now rising to national prominence.
Sam Vernon, Suitland class of ’05, is represented in three current shows in New York City, including one at the Brooklyn Museum. Eric N. Mack, Suitland ’05, is preparing a show that opens in the fall in Paris. The two artists said that the world inside the Annex, as the arts center is known, was where it all began — where they spent up to four hours a day with art teachers, all practicing professionals. Close friends since ninth grade at Suitland, both Ms. Vernon and Mr. Mack went on to Cooper Union and later Yale. Several of this year’s Suitland graduates are also headed to well-regarded college arts and design programs, many with substantial financial aid. Among them is Malik Mills, 17, who managed to produce finely detailed pen-and-ink drawings even as his family members faced eviction from their home. “My photography teacher was the first person to introduce Conceptual art to me,” he said.
Recalling the rigor of Ms. Wilson’s drawing class, Ms. Vernon said, “we were made to draw straight lines from one side of an 18-by-24 page to another, for two or three weeks before we could even go on to observe objects and still lifes.” Students receive a grounding in the basics in their first two years, before choosing a concentration, and there are frequent critique sessions.
“The teacher-student connection is very deep and very long term, and helps us develop and flourish as artists,” said Yaa Cunningham, 17, who will attend the University of Rochester in the fall and plans to study art.
Ms. Vernon, 28, recalled the program as “this magical thing.” She creates eclectic collages and designs with often subtle messages about the African-American experience. Last year,, which focuses on youth culture and design, tabbed her as one of 15 young black artists “making waves in the art world.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

More BRT misinformation

Neighbors along certain proposed Bus 'Rapid' Transit (BRT) routes are receiving robocalls with misinformation. Apparently the calls are being paid for by the 'private sector.'

Here is one account of the call:

I just received a second robocall from Steve Silverman, former Councilman now registered lobbyist.  A couple of others in my neighborhood also received this call today.
This was a live person who said:
Operator: "Hi we now have the solution to all the Route 29 problems.  The County Council is about to approve funding for a rapid transit system.  Would you like me to patch you through to the County Council so you can tell them you  support this?"
Me: Who are you calling for?
Operator: Steve Silverman
Me: and  who is Steve Silverman representing?
Operator:  The County Council
Me:  Really?  Steve Silverman is representing the County Council?
Operator: Councilman Steve Silverman
Me: Oh he's on the Council?
Operator: Well let me patch you through to the Council and you can ask
Me:  Where are you calling from?
Operator:  I can't say.
Me:  What company are you calling from?
Operator: I can't disclose that and then she hangs up.

@abc7 Fairfax Cty Schools won't do intvws on crumb rubber fields/potential cancer risk, so we did next best thing. FOIA'd their emails.

Baltimore schools CEO to be replaced by former academics chief

...The decision ends Thornton's divisive tenure less than two years into a four-year contract. State lawmakers, religious leaders and education advocates have said he lacks vision, direction and follow-through, and a growing number of lawmakers and community activists in recent months have called for his ouster.

Thornton, who came to Baltimore from Milwaukee in 2014, grappled with a litany of financial and operational mishaps as head of Maryland's fourth-largest school system. He leaves the district embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with more than a dozen charter schools...

...The board did not announce publicly that a search was underway. The board made its offer to Santelises on the last day of the Maryland General Assembly session in April, when lawmakers approved legislation that established a partially elected school board and required one lawmaker from the House of Delegates and the state Senate to take part in selecting the next CEO.
That bill has not been signed by Gov. Larry Hogan and has not become law.
Historically, superintendent searches in the city have been announced publicly but were kept confidential. The board that hired Thornton held public forums during the search process.
Cooper said the board did not announce the search, conducted by the local firm EntreQuest, because board members did not want it to become a distraction for teachers, students and administrators. Job candidates signed a nondisclosure agreement...

 Since Santelises left the district in August 2013, she has served as vice president of K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust, a Washington-based think tank...

...The board is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on a four-year contract that would pay Santelises $298,000 a year.
Thornton's deal was worth $290,000 a year. He will receive his third-year salary under a separation agreement negotiated by the board, Cooper said.
On Tuesday, the school board also approved an annual budget that cuts central office staff, including school police officers, and funds literacy and math initiatives...

MoCo Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Westbard developer EYA shake hands minutes after plan passes

Elrich, "Eliminating 1,000 jobs and thinking that is a bright idea."

State Property taxes hold steady

...The three-member [Board of Public Works] panel voted to maintain the state property tax rate of 11.2 cents per $100 of assessed value on real property and 28 cents per $100 on public utilities.
The action comes a week after the State Commission on Debt recommended last week to hold the line on the tax rates for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The state started issuing more bonds in 2009 under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley as a way to free up cash from programs such as Program Open Space and the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund to offset structural budget deficits amid a deep national recession.
Since then, the gap between what is owed and what is covered by property tax collections has been growing.
This year the state needed nearly $252 million in general fund dollars to make the required payments. Projections for fiscal 2018 show that gap is projected to increase to $356 million — an amount that surpasses state spending on school construction. By fiscal 2021, that amount grows to $521 million — nearly twice the projection for the current budget year...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Westbard, Rosemary Hills, Lyttonsville, Damascus & Luxmanor Unite to Send Message to Council

This morning four County neighborhood groups joined SaveWestbard and submitted a joint letter to the County Council.
May 3, 2016
Montgomery County Council
Council Office Building
100 Maryland Avenue, 5th Floor
Rockville, MD 20850
Dear Councilmembers:
This letter is a joint effort among the following groups:
Rosemary Hills
Keep Damascus Rural
Luxmanor Citizens Association
We ask the County Council, once again, to reject the proposed Westbard Sector Plan (WSP) or, at a minimum, take a strategic pause before approving this sector plan in order to allow for a thoughtful and measured process in which community trust of county government is restored and community concerns (about school-overcrowding and traffic congestion) are appropriately and meaningfully addressed. Consultation with the community is imperative as the Westbard Community Survey, submitted to your offices yesterday, confirms that Westbard-area residents overwhelmingly oppose the proposed WSP.
Irrespective of the Council’s vote today, the Westbard experience has united and mobilized communities across Montgomery County with the common view that the overall Montgomery County planning process is broken.
For the reasons set forth below, we, the undersigned communities, are united in our opposition to the Montgomery County planning process, and we invite other communities to join us in opposition:
First, communities across Montgomery County are equally dismayed by a County-wide planning process that favors developers over communities, and that consistently results in outcomes that communities do not want. The County Council and Board, in apparent partnership with major developers, are now engaged in a full-fledged effort to urbanize rural, sub-urban, and local communities through overbuilding and commercialization of public space, at great profit to developers, but to the detriment of our public schools, the environment, traffic congestion, community diversity, and social services. This will not stop until we unite.
Second, County officials have dismissed, as unreasonable, public opposition to urbanization that favors developers over the environment and over the local, established community, and instead have sought to thwart the overwhelming opposition through a planning process designed to divide and then mislead the community about real intentions and plans. This will not stop until there is reform.
Finally, the undersigned communities stand together and will use every legal and political means at their disposal to reform the planning process, to put an end to unwanted over-development, and to create a process that involves maximum citizen participation. This is the only tenable strategy for improving our built space, protecting the natural environment, strengthening social infrastructure, and preserving our cherished values of diversity and responsible stewardship of the County.
Respectfully submitted,
SaveWestbard, Jonathan and Dominique Cahn, Patricia Kolesar, Bobby Lipman, Stan Wiggins
Rosemary Hills, Leonor Chaves, Mark Mendez, Valarie Barr
Lyttonsville, Charlotte Coffield
Keep Damascus Rural, Seth Gottesman
Luxmanor Citizens Association, Abbe Milstein

Hogan warns state agencies about single-bid and last-minute contracts

ANNAPOLIS — State agencies were put on notice Wednesday as Gov. Larry Hogan threatened to kill the next contract brought to the Board of Public Works at the 11th hour.
Hogan made his comments after joining with Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot to delay a decision on an environmental consulting contract. The single-bid contract for $5 million over four years with Annapolis-based Environmental Resources Management had already come under scrutiny because the winning company was also the incumbent contractor.
“Two things we don’t like at the Board of Public Works are single-bid contracts and coming in at the very last moment before the contract expires and you’ve managed to do both at the same time,” Hogan said speaking to Bruce Michael, director of the Resource Assessment Service at the Department of Natural Resources...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In a wealthy Md. suburb, some residents have waited more than 30 years for a ride

...Many local governments, including Montgomery County, are investing in public transportation as a way to focus population growth and attract economic development. But as the county and other auto-centric suburbs become poorer — the number of children in the county who qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school has jumped over the past decade, to about 35 percent — they’re also exploring new ways to serve more residents who can’t afford to drive...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Students at a Maryland high school come together after two deaths

As Winston Churchill High School mourned the loss of a second student in less than two months, more than 150 students converged on a Potomac park hoping to forge a stronger sense of community while they honored those who died.
Balloons festooned a goal post, and music played as students mingled. The gathering on Sunday had the feel of a spring picnic — three-legged races, blankets spread out on the grass — but with a deeper sense of purpose.
Churchill has lost two of its own since February: Alyson “Alex” Baumann, 15, a sophomore who died Feb. 25, and Anna “Maya” Castillo, 17, a junior who died April 17. Both families have confirmed that the teenagers took their own lives...

County Police to Update Policy for Using Tasers

County Police to Update Policy for Using Tasers: Move comes after report was published detailing deadly incidents involving county police

Lockdowns Common in D.C.-Area School Districts

Washington, D.C.-area public schools ordered at least 30 lockdowns since 2014, according to a review of security records by the News4 I-Team.
A lockdown, a security measure often used when police report weapons or threats near school buildings, requires students to be secured inside classrooms and an elaborate regimen for principals and administrators...

Howard Co: Generous school budget proposal is anything but 'devastating'

...School leaders need to get out of the dark, put the brakes on such hyperbolic turn-out-the-lights language and consider the facts. The school system is getting a fair amount of taxpayer money. The school superintendent and board members must do their jobs and manage spending effectively and efficiently.

George Leventhal: Suburbs were a Mistake

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Montgomery Council calls for reduction in wage in negotiated wage hikes

...Leggett and the Board of Education have until May 10 to renegotiate wage provisions with unions and send a revised package back to the council. Leggett and the board could also opt to leave the increases unchanged.
The council has the authority to set pay. It is scheduled to take final action on the budget May 26...

Why Phones Don’t Belong in School

A recent Los Angeles Times’ article reveals that teachers across America must compete with students’ phones for attention. Matt Miles, a high school teacher from Fairfax County, Virginia, says the problem is getting worse: “Whereas 5 years ago, I could quietly ask the one rebellious student to put his or her phone away with no real interruption to class, doing that today would require multiple conversations with a majority of my class.”
The push for students to use phones while at school, and even during class, comes from this generation of preteens and teens who — as illustrated by the recent documentary Screenagers — struggle to stop playing with their phones. Adding fuel to the fire are tech pundits who claim that smartphones provide learning opportunities for children. Parents, too, may want to communicate by phone with their kids throughout the school day.
But new research is questioning the wisdom of allowing phones in school, as studies reveal this practice is putting students’ learning and safety at risk...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

State BOE Issues Opinion on "Opt Out" of State Assessments

Bowers Putting Cell Tower on Another Red Zone School Playground. 80% Free & Reduced Lunch School to Get Cell Tower

Yellow dots show existing cell towers on MCPS playgrounds.
Larry Bowers time as superintendent is almost up, but he still has one more cell tower he wants to put on a Red Zone (low income student population) playground.

The pink arrow in the image at left shows the location of Neelsville Middle School in Germantown.

As reported by ABC7 in 2015:  MCPS places controversial cellular towers at predominantly high-poverty schools, stats show

The agenda item shown below details that MCPS staff have already taken this proposal to the Montgomery County Tower Committee without the approval of the land owner, the Board of Education.  Superintendent Larry Bowers is pushing ahead with this construction project without the approval of the Board of Education.

FARMS = Free and Reduced Meals, an indicator of poverty.

Dixon, Kauffman to Face Off for School Board in November

Dixon, Kauffman to Face Off for School Board in November: Incumbent Kauffman will take on former high school principal in general election

2016 Board of Education Unofficial Primary Results for Montgomery County

"You don’t have to be sick to get better,” Dr. Jack Smith

MCPS Finalizes New Superintendent