From The Blog

Contact the Senate to Vote NO on Betsy DeVos


  1. Call or Email your Senators:
  • Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121and ask for the office of your Senators
  • Identify yourself as a constituent and the organization that you represent (if any)
  • Find your Senator’s email address:

Suggested email or phone call comments could include:


“I’m connecting with you to urge a NO vote on Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. To date, she has not shown an understanding of and deep commitment to the educational success and rights of students with disabilities. My child/children with a disability deserve to have a qualified Secretary who is knowledgeable about educational best practices and committed to enforcing federal law, protecting against inequity and discrimination and assuring accountability for all students in all schools, regardless of setting.


The Senate needs to put the future of millions of children’s lives above partisan loyalty and vote NO on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos.”


“Mrs. DeVos’ testimony indicated that she viewed vouchers as a solution for all families and that they could serve as a substitute for public education.  She refused to commit to protect against discrimination in schools that accept children with vouchers.  She did not seem to understand that  some states require students to waive their rights under IDEA in order obtain access for vouchers to attend private schools.  Vote NO on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos.”


“Mrs. DeVos never attended public schools, nor have her children.  She has never taught school, served as a school administrator, and does not have any degrees in education or education policy. During her confirmation hearing she failed to demonstrate understanding of basic education terminology.  She demonstrated a lack of understanding of states’ obligations to implement IDEA; in her testimony she stated that implementation of IDEA should be “left to the states.”  However, she has been a strong advocate and a generous patron of the expansion of charter schools in Michigan.  Many of those charters are among the worst performing schools in the state.  Mrs. DeVos is unqualified to be Secretary of Education, so please vote NO on her confirmation.”

  1. Call Members of the Senate HELP Committee: Please also take 5 more minutes and call the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”).  Find Senate HELP committee members at:



Information about childhood trauma, its effects, getting help

Check out the links below for information and resources about trauma, toxic stress, their impact on children and the response of the pediatric, mental health and legal communities.


  • DC Department of Behavioral Health (DC BOH)

DC BOH Access Helpline:

DC BOH Certified Community Based Service Providers:


  • Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, talks about childhood trauma and how she addresses it in her pediatric practice:


  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

Effects of Complex Trauma:

Empirically Supported Treatments and Promising Practices:





Trauma Impacts Children’s Behavior and Achievement in DC Schools

Happy New Year!  The holiday season is fading deeper and deeper into our rear view. The season provided respite — an escape in which to bask in cultural and religious festivities, reconnect with family, reflect on the past year and make new commitments.  For many adults, the holidays also brought great stress.  They felt mental and emotional anguish caused by job pressures, financial difficulties, strained relationships, and the mourning of loved ones who have passed.  Surely, the passage of time will not by itself usher all of these problems away.  Similarly, for many children the holidays pressed into sharp relief the mental and emotional struggles they have endured during the past year.  Trauma and continuing circumstances that cause children to feel toxic stress are one source of mental and emotional struggle for children.

Has your child experienced or witnessed 1 or more of the following adverse events in the past year or more?

  • Divorce
  • Homelessness
  • Incarceration or other separation from a parent
  • Violence in the home or violence in the community
  • Depression of a parent in the home
  • Death of a parent or very close relative
  • Physical abuse, sexual abuse or emotional abuse
  • Chronic neglect

Is your child also struggling with 1 or more of the following issues in school?

  • Impulse control
  • Anger outbursts
  • Depression, withdrawal
  • Inability to calm down
  • Frequent aggressive, attention-getting or rule breaking behaviors
  • Frequent in or out of school suspensions or other exclusion from the classroom
  • Inattention, easy distraction, ADHD
  • Reading well below grade level and other academic failure in school
  • Struggle with speech, language
  • Threatening self-injury or expressing ideas about suicide

If your child has experienced or witnessed any of the adverse events described above and is also experiencing behavioral and academic struggles in school, then read on.  You will learn how adverse experiences can negatively impact children’s brain development, their behavior and academic achievement in school, and their adult health outcomes.  You will also learn steps that you can take to address the impact of adverse experiences and toxic stress on your child, starting this yearRead this especially if your child has an IEP or a behavior intervention plan or if you think your child should be evaluated to determine if she has a learning or other disability.


The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente conducted a study (the “ACES Study”) during which researchers interviewed mostly white, middle class people to determine whether they experienced traumatic events during childhood.  The researchers also asked the respondents about their health as adults.  The researchers found that two-thirds of the persons whom they interviewed had at least one adverse childhood experience, and that 13% had four or more adverse childhood experiences.  The researchers also found that individuals who had more adverse childhood experiences were more likely to have poor health outcomes in adulthood, such as alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Research that followed the ACES Study confirmed that traumatic childhood events and toxic stress can adversely affect the brain development of children and their physiological and behavioral responses to stress.  These changes in turn can affect children’s attention, their ability to process information, their ability to regulate their emotions, their reading and academic progress, their ability to form and maintain relationships, and their social/emotional development in school.  Children who have experienced trauma or toxic stress are often failing school, reading below grade level, struggling with aggressive behavior and angry or emotional outbursts, and struggling with attention and distraction in the classroom.


Unfortunately, pediatric and child psychology practitioners often do not screen kids for trauma or toxic stress when evaluating children struggling with maladaptive behaviors or academic failure at school.  Often, when children who have experienced trauma or toxic stress are struggling with reading or acting out behaviors, health professionals who interact with them conclude that they are just oppositional, defiant, or have ADHD.  So, children affected by trauma and toxic stress often do not receive the clinical or other research based social/emotional and behavioral supports they may need to address their adverse experiences and to cope and succeed in school.

Moreover, most traditional public and public charter schools are not trauma sensitive. They are not staffed with administrators, social workers, psychologists, and teachers who have been trained to respond to children’s behavioral or academic struggles and responses in a way that addresses underlying trauma and toxic stress.  Schools that are not trauma sensitive respond to students whose behaviors are symptoms of underlying trauma and stress in ways that are directed toward the behavior, but do not address the trauma or stress.  Schools may emphasize organization, activity breaks, isolation, time out, token economies to address inattention and distraction caused by traumas or stress, in the same way they might address students with ADHD.  They might use purely disciplinary responses to contain rule breaking behaviors, such as frequent time out of the classroom, isolation and suspensions.  Some schools believe that class wide or school wide socio-emotional or behavior management programs by themselves are enough to addresses behaviors that are manifestations of trauma or toxic stress.  Other schools literally call on parents to try control the child’s behavior by pressuring parents to come to school and sit with their child in the classroom.

These approaches do not work because they do not address the root cause of the maladaptive behaviors –  the traumatic childhood experience or a continuing situation that causes toxic stress — and the needs of traumatized children to have trusting relationships, to learn to regulate their emotions, learn coping skills or have access to other research based interventions.

It is likely that your child will continue to struggle academically and behaviorally until the underlying trauma or toxic stress they experienced is addressed and adults interact with her in a trauma sensitive manner.   


Parents, there is something that you can do to help your child who is experiencing academic or behavioral struggles because of childhood trauma and toxic stress.  First, at home, try to determine if your child has experienced adverse childhood experiences by taking the assessment at  If your child’s ACES score is high, consider having your child evaluated by a trauma informed psychologist.

If you have access to such a psychologist in private practice, then contact that provider.  You can also get in touch with a trauma informed psychologist by calling the DC Department of Behavioral Health’s Access Help Line at 1(888)7WE-HELP or 1-888-793-4357 (  Once you call, a specialist will take information from you and can refer you to a community mental health provider that has trauma informed psychologists and provides other related services.  A list of community mental health providers who have been certified by the Department of Behavioral Health can be found on the department’s website at  These providers take different insurance payments, including Medicaid, HSCSN and others.  Other community service providers, who are not certified by DC, can also provide trauma informed services.

The psychologist will interview you and assess your child to screen her for trauma.  The psychologist may use cognitive behavioral therapy or other evidence based therapies and interventions, may offer training in parenting skills, and may connect you to other services in the community to address challenges that have been determined to cause stress in child’s home or community.  Some providers offer family therapy as well.  The psychologists may be willing to work with your child’s school, including the IEP team and a special education lawyer, to provide input on an IEP or a behavior intervention plan for your child.  A special education attorney can help you navigate this process.


How is your child’s reading? Is the IEP working?

District of Columbia Public School Parents:  Use the parent-teacher conference to ask questions and request education records to help you understand better how your child is doing in school, especially if your child has an IEP.  

The first quarter of the District of Columbia 2016-2017 public school year is over.  Traditional public schools and public charter schools are conducting parent-teacher conferences, during which parents will have around 15 minutes – yes, 15 minutes — to listen to teacher observations, review student work, then share their questions and concerns about their children’s academic and social development.

Will your parent-teacher conference — all 15 minutes of it – provide you a clear and complete picture of your child’s performance in school? 

As a former DCPS teacher, I understand that parent-teacher conferences are often rushed and can leave parents feeling that they do not have a clear understanding of their child’s performance in school because teachers either (1) spend most of the conference giving effusive praise about the child’s personality, character or values,  (2) spend most of the conference discussing the child’s behavior, especially if the behavior is negative, or (3) speak in vague terms about key measures of child’s academic progress, especially if the child is struggling.

The following is a quick checklist of issues you should consider and questions you might ask to acquire a clearer, more complete picture of your child’s academic and social progress at school and to help you begin to advocate on your child’s behalf.

How well does my kid read?  By now, your child’s teacher should have assessed your child’s reading, math and writing skills.  The assessments may be standardized or teacher made, and are usually administered in the beginning of the school year, again in December/January, and finally at the end of the school year.  Teachers give the assessments to determine children’s strengths and weaknesses, tailor instruction to meet children’s instructional needs, and monitor children’s academic growth during the school year.

Teachers assess your child’s reading skills using the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) or some other standardized assessment to determine your child’s early literacy skills, reading accuracy, reading fluency, ability to recall the order of key story events and details, and reading comprehension.  Teachers score the assessment in accordance with a rubric provided by the test developer and that test score correlates to a reading grade level for your child.  Here is a link to a reading level conversion chart that shows how your child’s assessment test score corresponds to her age and a reading grade level:

You should know your child’s reading grade level and the reading level that your school considers to be proficient for children in your child’s grade at this time of the year.  Ask the teacher for your child’s reading level.  If your child is reading significantly below the grade level expectation for this time of year, ask the teacher for her opinion about the cause of your child’s reading struggle.  Ask the teacher to share her instructional plan to close your child’s reading achievement gap.  Interventions may include the use of teaching strategies like guided reading, one on one support, computerized reading programs, or support from professional reading specialists with whom the school system has contracted to provide intensive reading intervention.  If you suspect that your child has a learning or other disability and want your child to be evaluated, make your request in writing to the school’s special education coordinator or the principal.

What about the report card?  What about the IEP progress report?  Review your child’s progress report card completely.  Read the grades and read the teacher comments about your child.  If the teacher’s comments seem unclear, vague, or minimal, ask your teacher to clarify them or provide more substance.  Compare the report card grades in English/Language Arts to your child’s beginning of the year Fountas and Pinnell (or DRA or other assessment) reading level.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), you should also receive an IEP progress report that shows your child’s progress on each academic goal in the IEP.  For each IEP goal, the report should tell you whether your child has met the goal, is progressing toward the goal, or is regressing.  The report will also include a narrative of your child’s performance.  Often, the special education teacher prepares the IEP progress report; your child’s classroom teacher may have assisted or provided input for the report.  You should ask the special education teacher and your child’s classroom teacher for copies of any assessments, observation notes or other written work that evaluate his progress against the IEP goals.  Compare the IEP progress report to the other data you have collected on your child’s performance.

Is the IEP working?  Compare your child’s current IEP to the IEP that was in place this time last year.  Are the reading (or math) goals in your child’s current IEP the same as the goals in the IEP that was in place this time last year?  Do the current IEP goals seem too hard for your child to reach given what you know about your child’s current abilities and proficiency?  If the answer is “Yes” to either of these questions, you should consider requesting an IEP meeting to determine whether your child is making adequate academic progress.  You have a right to request an IEP meeting at any time to ask questions and express your concerns.  The school should address, not ignore, your concerns or questions about the IEP at the IEP meeting.

My child acts out in school.  Is there a connection between her behavior, the school’s response, and her academic achievement?  Inappropriate behavior and exclusionary discipline can have adverse impacts on your child’s academic progress and social well-being.  Inappropriate behavior may have origins in reading failure, undiagnosed physiological or psychological conditions, chronic or toxic stress or trauma, adverse childhood experiences or a cognitive or other learning disability.  Inappropriate behaviors can impact your child’s ability to learn or progress academically.

Exclusionary discipline separates your child from his peers and his classroom teacher during the school day.  Repeated school suspensions (whether in-school or out of school suspension), extended time in the principal’s or social worker’s office, extended or frequent “time out” in the hallway or in another classroom, and sending a child home early as a response to inappropriate behavior will affect the amount and consistency of instruction that your child will receive in reading and other key subjects.  Repeated inappropriate behavior followed by exclusionary discipline can perpetuate or exacerbate reading failure.

Does it appear that your child is experiencing the same behavioral struggles – and exclusion from class or school — that he experienced during the last school year?  Does your child repeatedly exhibit inattention or inappropriate behaviors during instruction, to which the school responds by excluding her from the classroom or the building?  What kinds of behaviors does your child show?  Ask your child’s teacher these questions and about positive behavior strategies that she is using to support your child.  If you want to see documentation about your child’s behavior and the school’s  disciplinary responses, you have the right to ask the school for that, since it is part of her education record.

If it appears that your child is in a cycle of inappropriate behavior, repeated disciplinary exclusion, and reading or other academic failure, you should consider requesting a meeting with the school support team or the IEP team to share your concerns and discuss actions to determine the cause of the behavior and how to address it.  Actions may include conducting a functional behavior assessment, establishing a behavior intervention plan, and having your child evaluated by a pediatrician or psychologist.

Wrap Up.  This quick checklist can help you to begin to better understand your child’s academic and social progress and to plan future advocacy on your child’s behalf, especially if your child has an IEP and you believe that your child’s progress has stalled, is moving backward or is unclear to you.  A special education lawyer can review your child’s education record (including her IEP, psychological or related services assessments, academic assessments, progress reports, discipline record, and behavior intervention plan), direct you to education advocates, psychologists, related service providers or other education experts, work with your child’s school to review (and if necessary, modify) her IEP, or pursue other action to ensure that your child obtains an appropriate education.

Changes to DC Special Education Law

DC Special Education LawThe Special Education Student Rights Act of 2014, DC Act 20-486, includes several provisions that ensure that parents of children with special needs have the information and opportunity to more actively participate in the development and monitoring of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for their children and to hold schools accountable when their programs are not meeting the needs of their children. In my opinion, three provisions of the Act constitute a sea change in current DC policy regarding the interaction between the parents of children with special needs and the traditional public schools or public charter schools that service them.

Continue reading…