I was delighted to be at the Chinese American Parent’s Association forum Friday night, which was co-hosted by StandUp County and several other community organizations.

I have posted a few clips below for those who could not make it; please share these!  This was the last forum before the election, and while I have been thinking a lot about this race WAY at the bottom of the ballot, not everyone has been, and many people are just now able to think about the Board of Education and haven’t had a chance to go to a forum or other event.

The first is about the need to listen to our families and teachers more.  Also, here is a link to all three videos on YouTube where some draft captioning is available; we are working on improving those captions!

 

In response to a student question about racially motivated bullying.

 

My response to a question about representation in the curriculum.

 

Bethesda Beat 10/11/2018 – School Board Candidates Weigh in on Achievement Gap, Boundary Solutions.  All call for universal pre-k, better representation of district to lawmakers. “Blaeuer, who participated via recorded message and was not present at the forum, acknowledged the difficulties that could arise when changing the trajectory of students whose parents bought homes in particular areas to ensure they would attend specific high schools.  “We need to introduce choice and support that choice, even if that means providing some transportation for students to different places and school choices,” she said.  And where I was?  At my alma mater, Howard University School of Law, talking with law students about managing stress, mental health, & self-care as part of their program to support the ABA’s Law Student Mental Day, “The Struggle is Real: let’s talk about it.”  I am so proud that the law school is supporting their students’ personal AND professional growth while they are there!

MCM candidate statement, originally aired on 10/10/2018.

Bethesda Beat 9/27/2018 –  MoCo School Board Candidates Examine Issues of Equity During Forum Candidates agree that technology use in the classroom has pros and cons.  “It is not appropriate that students with disabilities can’t access free public education in their neighborhood school. They have a right to that,” [Blaeuer] said. “A lot of kids and families can’t afford transportation to get to those programs, and you can’t be included if you can’t get there.”….. When the issue of using cell phones for instruction came up, Blaeuer said that the devices could level the playing field for students who aren’t native English speakers, struggle to stay organized or have special needs. “I don’t like cell phones for instruction, but it would have changed my experience in law school if I could take a picture of everything my teacher wrote,” she said. When the candidates were asked about MCPS’s plans to shift to a new curriculum starting early next year in English and math for elementary and middle schools, some of the candidates expressed frustration with the pace at which the shift away from the current Curriculum 2.0 took place.  “Parents and teachers knew that Curriculum 2.0 was not working and they plowed ahead anyway,” Blaeuer said.

Washington Post 9/2/2018 – Parents say D.C. buses for special-ed students are unreliable at start of year – Maria Blaeuer, director of programs and outreach at Advocates for Justice and Education — a D.C. nonprofit organization that works with special-needs students to get them the services they require — said troubles with city transportation have made for a challenging start to the school year for many families. But she said the superintendent’s office is attempting to improve the services, meeting with her organization and others to address concerns. “Transportation continues to be an ongoing challenge for students in the District of Columbia, creating hardships for families and preventing students from accessing their education,” Blaeuer­ wrote in an email.

Bethesda Beat 2/28/2018 – Durso Decides Against Running for Re-Election to School Board – Blaeuer is an attorney who heads up programs and outreach at Advocates for Justice and Education in D.C. She’s a mother of three children, with one attending Laytonsville Elementary School and another at Gaithersburg Middle School.  While her family has been generally happy with Montgomery County Public Schools, she said the system doesn’t work equally well for everyone, especially for students with disabilities and non-traditional needs.  Blaeuer said she does recognize that she’ll have an uphill battle to defeat an incumbent but thinks her background is an advantage.  “I don’t have much name recognition and a complicated last name with four vowels in a row, but I also think that the reason why I’m doing this and my experience in this space makes me somebody that people can get behind,” she said. “Yes, I have a whole lot of background in education policy. But when it comes to education in Montgomery County, mostly, I’m a mom.”

180317Blauer0539Hechinger Report 12/16/217 – The ‘forgotten’ part of special education that could lead to better outcomes for students – But advocates and lawyers interviewed …. said the vast majority of goals and measures they have seen are vague or even nonsensical and fail to live up to their legal requirements. Plans often include too few goals, or superficial ones.  If a student likes football, for example, educators may note that he wants to join the NFL. “Everybody doing this work has seen this [in a] transition plan,” said Maria Blaeuer, staff attorney for the D.C.-based Advocates for Justice and Education. “That’s not a transition plan. That’s just filling in blank lines.”  College-bound students might be instructed to research colleges and fill out college applications — but the plans often don’t include training in other essential skills for college, such as how to study. Frequently, transition plans demonstrate low expectations.

WAMU 88.5 8/24/2017 – As D.C. Schools Audit Suspension Reporting Procedures, Some Fight For Students’ Rights – This summer, a Washington Post report found some district high schools, including Dunbar, were removing students from school but not labeling the removal as a suspension. In a few cases, students were marked as present but not allowed in the building. Blaeuer said as the new school year starts, she wants to make sure kids know their rights around Chapter 25, the D.C. municipal code around school discipline, including suspensions and expulsions. For example, when students are suspended they have a right to get everything in writing from their school.

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AP 3/24/2018 – March for Our Lives  – “It’s pretty simple for me,” said Zoe Tate, 11, from Gaithersburg Middle School in Maryland, explaining why she marched in Washington. “I think guns are dumb. It’s scary enough with the security guards we have in school. We don’t need teachers carrying guns now. I find it amazing that I have to explain that idea to adults.” Said her mother, Maria Blaeuer: “For our kids, feeling safe is fundamental, and they don’t feel safe.”

This article was extra special to me because it is a mother/daughter quote!

 

Washington Post 7/23/2017 – Undocumented suspensions persisted in D.C. schools despite repeated alerts  – Maria Blaeuer, a special-education lawyer, said that since 2010 she has settled multiple due-process complaints with DCPS on behalf of students informally suspended from Kelly Miller Middle School.  “To have central office know that this is happening — be aware of it, resolve cases and not doing anything about it — was profoundly disappointing to me,” Blaeuer said.

Politico 11/29/2017 –  How Washington Winks at Violent Discipline of Special Needs Kids “Charter schools get to write their own disciplinary code, and they can be as little as one page,” says Maria Blaeuer, an attorney with Advocates for Justice and Education, a family advocacy nonprofit in D.C. “In a lot of ways,” she adds, “it’s a political problem. OSSE is a new agency, it’s small, it doesn’t have a lot of political clout.”  If neither agency is enforcing regulations about the use of restraint and seclusion, it’s no surprise that they are not keeping good raw data either. The D.C. charter board said it doesn’t keep data on restraint and seclusion. The only documents it keeps that describe such cases are complaints from parents and families when they feel their children have been improperly restrained or secluded. The board found 43 complaints from 2011 to 2016, but it declined to release them to POLITICO to protect students’ confidentiality.  “Charters here operate under a regulatory framework that goes so far back into the mists of time, it essentially lets them operate in their own way and does not include public access to individual schools’ records,” says Fritz Mulhauser, who spent two decades as an attorney with the ACLU’s D.C. affiliate. “The charters are rabidly politically active, and they fend off any political movement toward regulation that they think goes too far.” …..  Without meaningful regulation at the local level, the protection of children in D.C.’s charter schools, among the biggest charter networks in the country, is left entirely up to the federal government and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. And with the department’s increasingly hands-off approach and longtime unwillingness to enforce its reporting requirements, the schools are almost entirely unregulated. They’re just not doing the reporting that they’re supposed to be doing,” says Blaeuer. “It’s the Wild West.” 

Everyone has the right to vote, and that includes voters with disabilities! Voters with a disability have the right to:

  • Vote privately and independently
  • Have an accessible polling place with voting machines for voters with disabilities
  • Wheelchair-accessible voting booths
  • Entrances and doorways that are at least 32 inches wide
  • Handrails on all stairs
  • Voting equipment that is accessible to voters who are blind or who have low vision
  • Bring a service animal into your polling place
  • Seek assistance from workers at the polling place who have been trained to use the accessible voting machine
  • Bring someone to help them vote (including a friend, family member, caregiver, assisted living provider, or almost anyone else, but not an employer or union representative).

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has a useful Q&A about voting, which included how to find out more about your specific voting location’s accessibility.

Disability Rights Maryland

If you are a person with a disability who experiences barriers to voting due to your disability, Disability Rights Maryland can help you! For this election, all Montgomery County polling places are compliant with Maryland State Board of Elections accessibility guidelines, but that may not mean that the are accessible to YOU, so check if you are concerned.

To report voting concerns that may be related to a disability (such as access to a polling place, voter assistance, or problems using a voting machine) please contact:

Disability Rights Maryland Voter Hotline by phone: 443-692-2492; 800-233-7201 ext. 2492; TTY 410-235-5387 or by email: Voting@DisabilityRightsMD.org

You can also schedule a voter registration and training presentation with Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) by contacting Tracy Wright, Voting Advocate by phone: 443-690-2603 or by email: TracyW@DisabilityRightsMD.org

REV UP: Register, Educate, Vote, Use your Power

REV-UP_edcuationThe REV-Up Campaign is a project of AAPD (the American Association of People with Disabilities) and is supported by many other organizations and coalitions. There is a wealth of information at the REV-Up site and many great links, including a Maryland specific resource, REV-UP-MD-2018-final-updated, and links to SignVote and information about  #CripTheVote, and great graphics and tools you can use in your own advocacy!

From the Montgomery Co. Board of  Elections

If you vote in the State of Maryland, you are assigned to a specific polling place. This is important because there are different local contests on the ballot. However, in some situations – accessibility concerns or religious principles – you may request a different polling place.

Accessibility Concerns: For the 2018 Gubernatorial Elections, all Montgomery County polling places are compliant with Maryland State Board of Elections accessibility guidelines. Contact the Board of Elections if you have concerns about an accessibility issue for a specific disability.

Religious Principles: If your assigned polling place is a religious institution, and entering that site conflicts with your religious beliefs and practices, you may request a nearby polling place. Reassignment request forms are available from the Maryland State Board of Elections at http://www.elections.maryland.gov/pdf/Request_for_Accessible_Polling_Place.pdf, by calling Christine Rzeszut at 240-777-8585, or by e-mail to christine.rzeszut@montgomerycountymd.gov. Your request must be received by 9 p.m.  October 16, 2018, for the General Election.

If a substitute polling place with the same contests on the ballot is not available, you may prefer to vote at an Early Voting Center or by mail.

Early Voting will be held from  October 25 – November 1, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at eleven Montgomery County locations. For more information, see www.777vote.org.

For information on voting by mail, call 240-777-8550, or email absentee@montgomerycountymd.gov. Your application for a ballot by mail must be received by October 30, 2018.

For other election information, call 240-777-VOTE, visit www.777vote.org, the Maryland State Board of Elections’ website at http://elections.maryland.gov, or follow the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Facebook or Twitter.

Contact: Gilberto Zelaya, 240-777-8625

MD Relay 1-800-735-2258

 

Justin Dart Quote (GIF)

 

As those of who watched the recent LWV forum know, not everyone got to answer every question, and for many questions, we only had 30 sections to respond.  So as promised, here are some of the answers I would have given, if I had been given the chance by format.  If you missed it, here is a link. 

Should we bring back high school final exams? Yes, but in a way that works and that makes sense for our students and our schools.  While our students should not be subjected to tests that don’t help them prepare for their future, or that don’t help all of us make informed decisions, they deserve a chance to demonstrate what they know and a chance to practice what is a valuable skills for college success.

How will I encourage effective community engagement? We need to provide families and community members with multiple avenues to meaningfully engage with MCPS at all levels, from the Board of Education to the classroom, and we need to support them in that engagement.  It is not enough to say that you welcome parent engagement; you need to support that engagement by giving parents the best tools available to help them engage effectively.  For example, MCPS can do a better job of providing translation services, providing more notice, advancing the use of technology by making more widely available, moving meeting locations, or even providing childcare and meals.  There is not a one size fits all solution here and finding the tools we need for effective community engagement first requires listening to everyone in our community.

How would you address the disproportionate discipline of minority students? Restorative practices have shown a great deal of potential for creating strong and supportive school communities and keeping students at risk of leaving school engaged and connected with school, and I would support the implementation of restorative practices in our schools. I also think it is important to ensure that our teaching corps and curriculum reflect our community and that we support our classroom teachers so that they can work to keep students in class and learning.

How would you support students who are very far below grade level, and/or are overage and under-credited?  I very much appreciated the focus at the forum on preventing students from getting to a place where they are in this position. However the reality is that we must also serve the students who are over-age and under-credited, or who come to us very far below grade level.  We cannot forget these students – they need our help and deserve a path to success.  I am thankful that I have board level experience serving these students; I have found that highly individualized programming that serves the whole student, combined with a competency based pathway to a high school diploma, is effective.  However, we can not do this alone, I support working with MSDE, Montgomery College and other community partners to create meaningful alternatives for these students.

We know that all of us, including children, learn better when our basic needs are met. That is why Boards of Education all across the country need to pay attention to student nutrition, student mental health, and to the physical health of our students too.

That is why I was flattered to be endorsed by Lindsey Parsons, formerly of Real Food for Kids – Montgomery County (title for identification purposes only) earlier this year.  That is also why I support lowering the acceptable level of lead in the water in our schools, why I attended umttr’s annual basketball tournament this spring, and most recently why I was happy to sign the Kids’ Health Pledge last week.

I agreed to support the establishment of state standards for physical education and recess in Annapolis, make sure that kids have adequate opportunities for movement and play in school and (most importantly) work to create a culture where student health and wellness are a valued part of the MCPS mission.   

 

As we get closer to some more of the candidate forums and to Election Day, I want to encourage folks to engage, and more importantly, vote in all the races, but especially the Board of Education race!

Local government makes a difference in people’s lives, and the local, democratic control of education is a uniquely American creation.  Please engage and invest in our community by participating in local elections; we have created a series of posts for social media for you to share and remind people how much every single Board of Education race matters to students, teachers, families, and whole community.  Please tag me (@MariaForBoard on facebook and twitter) when you post them!

Download facebook posts, tweets to share!

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**UPDATED – Policy FAA passed tonight with proposed changes ensuring that school diversity is considered (9/24/2018) **

This whole post,  this video clip and the quotes below are all about or from a meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education policy committee about how we include diversity as a goal in our school assignment process. Almost every member of the Policy Committee supported some form of accountability around creating diverse schools, except my opponent Dr. Docca.  If you click on the link, you will see that 12 minutes into the clip my opponent expresses her opposition to the idea that our schools even can better reflect the reality of our county.  In her comments in the policy committee, she says that “sometimes you cannot mix” students and that supporters of diverse schools need to be realistic and remember that “little by little [earlier integration attempts from the 1970s] faded away because people really did not want their kids coming to certain areas” and that we are “past that now.”  I could not disagree with her more.  My education, my life and my children’s lives have all benefited tremendously from being in diverse environments, and I want every child in MCPS to have the advantage that I was given by attending what Dr. Docca called a “mixed” school. 

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The entire Board of Education votes today on Policy FAA, and all indications are that my opponent will again vote against modifications to policy FAA designed to ensure that our schools better reflect more of our county.  In her comments in the policy committee, she says that “sometimes you can not mix” students and that supporters of diverse schools need to be “realistic” and remember that “little by little [previous integration attempts] faded away because people really did not want their kids coming to certain areas” and that we are “past that now.”

I disagree.  Students still benefit from diverse schools, as do whole communities.  In fact, we might need diverse schools now more than ever.  School boundaries should seek to provide all students with the benefits of diverse schools, just as they strive to provide all students with other benefits, like athletic programs, science labs, specialized programs and advance coursework. School boundaries seek to limit commuting time and distance traveled, plan for growth, and address capacity issues. Obviously, it is hard to balance all of those things and the many, many other things we ask our school boundaries to account for.

Many worthwhile things in life are hard to do. It is not mean we don’t try to do them, or that we give up. We keep at it. Our current school boundaries are far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to create a fair and equitable school assignments across the county. We decided as a community a long time ago that we wanted diverse, integrated schools, and we haven’t gotten there yet, in fact, we are getting further away from that goal. That doesn’t mean we change our values, or give up on what is best for all our kids; it just means that we still have work to do. As Ms. Tadikonda said in the policy committee meeting “It is not ok for 10 and 11 year olds to recognize that they are distinctly segregated by socioeconomic status from their neighbors across the street.” We do not have to accept the unacceptable, just because changing it is hard.

As I listened to the discussion around policy FAA, I thought back to my time in high school in Fairfax, Virginia in the early nineties and found this article, reflecting about when the principal at Fairfax High School (FHS) decided that Johnny Reb wasn’t going to be the school mascot anymore, our football games would not feature either the actual confederate flag or the FHS version, and the drill team was not going to be called the “Confederattes”. It was not a popular decision with many people, and some families even sued. I arrived at FHS right after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor in of the school and it was still something that many in the student body and the community were still processing. But we did process it, and we did move forward as a school community, not in spite of the school’s increasing diversity, but because of our diversity.  

That is one reason why as a parent, it is important to me that my children attend schools with people who don’t have the same experiences and background as them.  I want my children to learn in an economically diverse schools, and we know that economically segregated schools aren’t good for kids.  My dad worked in construction and my mom was at home most of my childhood, and I learned a lot just by being in classes with people whose lives were radically different from mine, it wasn’t always comfortable, but it was important.  It was our school boundaries that made it possible for me have classes with embassy kids and the children of professionals; and it was valuable for all of us to know people different from us.  As our school community moved forward together, we had real setbacks and problems, but it was us have different backgrounds that made it possible for us to move forward, however slowly and unsteadily we did it.

That is why I want my children to go to racially and ethnically diverse schools, and I also don’t want them on the bus for an hour every morning and afternoon. I don’t want my children, or any other child, to have to shoulder the burden of being an outlier in their school. I want our school assignments to make some sort of geographic sense; I don’t want to look at a school boundary map and think “How does that make any sense?” or wonder if the caselaw about gerrymandering applies to school boundaries.

Parents like me want all of those things and we fully understand that they exist in varying degrees of tension. Balancing all of those priorities and coming up with a reasonable map of school assignments is hard, very hard, but it is absolutely worth doing and it is something other school districts are working on too.

It is the Board of Education’s job to do this work and my opponent simply isn’t willing to try anymore, she has given up on providing our students with the benefits of a diverse, integrated school experience. When voting against the changes to policy FAA she said “we are past that” because the plan that MCPS tried in the 1970s to create more diverse schools didn’t work. She said “you cannot convince me that you are going to be able to mix schools that are east of 355 with schools that are on the other side.”  To borrow Ms. Tadikonda’s phrase, it is not OK to treat Rockville Pike like the Grand Canyon.  My oldest crossed 355 for school, and had a great high school experience where he played football, was a nationally ranked robotics team and had classes with people from outside our neighborhood.  All of those things prepared him well for his next step in life.

The Board of Education’s job is to provide leadership and oversight to MCPS; it isn’t leadership to give up on something as important as diverse schools just because it is hard to do.  I am thankful that when I was a child the adults in my community showed leadership and decided that a Confederate themed high school was inappropriate, and I am thankful they stayed with that decision even when it seemed unpopular.  This Board of Education need to show the same leadership and make sure that MCPS students get to go to diverse schools.   Giving up on providing our students with the benefit of a diverse school is every bit as unacceptable as giving up on making sure that every student has great teachers, access to athletics or specialized programs.

I am not willing to give up on giving every one of our kids the best education we can and I don’t think the rest of Montgomery County is either.

 

 

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Additional links –

This post is about policy FAA, which is the Board of Education policy that provides guidance and direction to MCPS about how to assign students to schools when they create school boundaries.   

As Ms. Ortman-Fouse points out in her remarks and later in a public Facebook post and comments, there is a small mountain of evidence supporting diverse, integrated schools from a wide range of sources. SMOB Ananya Tadikonda then does a great job of connecting the research presented by Ms. Ortman-Fouse with the reality of student’s lives. What many people don’t realize is that the benefits of a diverse student body are school-wide; attending a diverse school has real benefits for all kids, and it improves academic outcomes for many kids.

Also, if you are curious and want to see the school map they are discussing, it is here