The Baltimore Teachers Union protest got most of the attention at this week's city school board meeting. But during the public comment portion of the meeting, two desperate mothers stole some of the thunder.
One was Sheila Slade-Lee, whose 7-year-old son is in second grade at Northwood Elementary. He has hearing problems, sensory and auitory processing disorders, attention deficit disorder, and possibly dyslexia, though she hasn't been able to get the school system to test him for that. In two years at the school, she's called 16 IEP meetings, and the boy still isn't getting the special education services he needs. She said staff at the school have told her that he's getting more services than his classmates with disabilities. "These are the kids where the parents don't fight for the children," she said.
And special education is only one of the problems. In two years, she said, her son has never brought home a piece of artwork that he made. The cafeteria, she contended, "is pure chaos." Paint is peeling off the new doors at the school, and it's falling off the ceiling. There aren't enough books for children to bring home.
Slade-Lee works as a nurse at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, the correctional facility on Madison Street. She said she asks the young inmates she meets there, "'Why are you here? What started you on the path to this destruction?' Guess what it was? School. They couldn't read. They couldn't write. They couldn't get a job."
The other parent was Blondelia Caldwell, past chair of the city's Special Education Advisory Committee. In Baltimore education circles, she is known for her activism. Until this week, her grandson was enrolled in eighth grade at George Kelson Elementary/Middle, where she ran a support group for other grandparents.
Two weeks ago, much of the public comment at the board meeting centered around praise for Kelson, as parents and staff turned out to praise the school's partnership with the Enterprise Foundation. This week, Caldwell was there to tell a different story. On Sept. 27, Caldwell said, she was at the school when some bigger kids tried to attack her grandson. She got in the middle of the fight, and, she said, one of the boys accused her of threatening to stab him with a pencil. She was arrested and charged with second-degree assualt and spent the night in jail. Her pastor accompanied her to the board meeting to urge system officials to resolve the charges against her. Caldwell transferred her grandson to another school this week.
Caldwell's description of the middle school portion of Kelson was similar to Slade-Lee's description of Northwood: "out of control."
"Every year for five years, it's been a new principal," she said when I talked to her Wednesday. "They can't handle the school." Of the self-contained special education class where her grandson was enrolled, she said: "Those kids run the hall every day. They should be in the classroom with instruction going on. There's nothing."
School board Chairman Brian Morris assigned staff to follow up with both the women.
UPDATE: Slade-Lee met with a system administrator on Wednesday who promised to get her son the help he needs.