from the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles update for the week of 25 May | http://bit.ly/1F1xGOP
May 21, 2015 :: Five high school students and three teachers from Compton Unified School District have filed a lawsuit against the District for allegedly failing to address the effects that chronic trauma had on their learning ability. The students said that the poverty, violence, neglect and abuse that they faced in their daily lives resulted in complex trauma and should qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. If so, it would enable them to receive special academic and mental health services that the school would be required to provide. The lawsuit, Peter P. v. Compton Unified School District, was filed on behalf of the students by Public Counsel and another law firm working pro bono.
It is well known that trauma has a negative effect on students and those who have experienced it are far more likely to repeat a grade, have attendance and behavioral problems, lower reading scores and other problems. Recent research shows that trauma can cause children to be in a constant state of fear, making it difficult for them to relax enough to process verbal instructions and learn. According to the Los Angeles Times, the lawsuit is seeking training for district staff to recognize trauma, mental support for students and a shift from punitive disciplinary practices to those based on reconciliation and healing (May 19, 2015). The plaintiffs include students who have suffered physical violence, sexual abuse, witnessed several shootings, been homeless and shuffled between foster homes. One student slept on the roof of the high school for two months because he was homeless and when he was discovered, he was suspended.
One of the teachers in the suit is an alumnus of Dominguez High School and has taught there for 19 years. Despite losing dozens of students to violence and attending from one to three funerals a year for current or former students, he has never received training on trauma or mental health nor been made aware of any system for referring students for mental health services. He joined the suit because he wants more training and support.
Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel, says that focusing on childhood trauma would do something about the achievemenachievement gap and while society may not be able to eliminate causes of trauma, schools must address its effects.
- “Class-action lawsuit alleges that Compton Unified failed to address impact of trauma on student learning” | LA Times | http://lat.ms/1FsCL6f
- “Lawsuit says schools are legally required to address student trauma” | EdSource | http://bit.ly/1Ra4jm7
Suing a school district for failing to provide mental healthcare may seem, at first blush, to be a stretch. What part of the 3Rs is mental healthcare? But this is a stretch that is needed – like those stretches people who exercise do before they exercise.
Education is about stretching our little grey cells. It’s about being safe and well and healthy. Maslows’s Hierarchy of Needs: Food, Comfort, Safety.
- You can’t learn if you are hungry.
- You don’t learn if you don’t have a place to live.
- You won’t learn if you don’t feel safe.
Then and only then can we get down to the Rs.
In Compton and in most of the brink o’ th’ apocalypse they inhabit the school nurse is most students’ primary-and maybe-only healthcare professional and medical provider. The school nurses’ office has become the Health Office has become the School Wellness Center – even as the School Nurse has become a vanishing species, repurposed to paperwork shuffling and IEP Compliance Officer – often traveling from school-to-school on a one-day-a-week rotation.
This has all worked out because school health crises: The flu outbreak, the second grader who falls out of a tree, the incident of diabetic or anaphylactic shock – these only occur on the days the nurse is at the school and is otherwise available.
I have spent some of the last month reading essays by middle-schoolers about the impact of violence and trauma on their lives. Most need additional instruction on narrative storytelling (and grammar+punctuation) …but the far more pressing need is for mental health professionals to begin to have the conversation with them about their lives.
LAUSD in planning to eliminate some psychiatric social workers in next year’s budget. The bad-news masquerading otherwise is that the District is not going to eliminate as many as first proposed. Nobody in their right mind is proposing to rehire mental health workers previously laid off. But I am.
Post Traumatic Shock Disorder is not just for returning warriors anymore. This is not John Boy’s America. This is not the Bobsey Twins’ America. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm graduated decades ago and doesn’t come back for the alumni meetings ‘cause she’s scared of the neighborhood. Today’s narrative was written back in 1969: “Oh, a storm is threat'ning / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.”
By ‘75 Bob was feeling better about it than Mick+Keith in ‘69:
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
It’s an apt metaphor to duck in under.