How Baltimore City schools like Hamilton are failing our children

One real life story of a system of failure

In a city that leads the nation in homicides and violent crime, along with being one of the top ten filthiest cities in the nation, you would at least hope that the administrators of the second worst school system in the state of Maryland would do what they can to assist children in need of a quality education. And in some schools that may be the case, but that certainly isn’t so at one area elementary and middle school in Northeast Baltimore.

At school #236, better known as Hamilton Elementary and Middle, the administrators seem more focused on catering to children of influential households and/or those whose children do not present any behavioral problems that they clearly are not equipped to handle. This lack of compassion and educational experience puts children with Individualized Education Programs, known as IEP’s or 504 plans – which is a part of the federal civil rights law that prohibits schools and administrators like those from Hamilton from discriminating against children with certain disabilities – at a severe disadvantage.

Now the definition of these disabilities isn’t spelled out in the 504 plan, which falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but include such issues as ADHD and other learning disabilities. These plans are typically addressed after a child has been evaluated for such needs and follows the child with him to whatever school he is assigned.

Take for instance one 12-year old child, who for the sake of this article we will label as Student X. Young Mr. X was given a 504-plan early on during his educational journey due to a doctor’s diagnosis of suffering from ADHD, along with issues of chronic loss since early on his life. Here is a young child whose mother died when he was three years old, still too young to really comprehend the meaning of death and that his mommy was never coming back.

Six months later, his grandmother – who was like his mother for most of his childhood – died as well, leaving him in a state of shock. Having had a relationship with his father since birth, he now resided solely with his father, who had primary custody of him since the passing of his mother. A year later, the young lad watched his mother’s brother (his uncle) commit suicide while his mother’s father (his grandfather) died months later. So now the young five-year old, who had recently entered pre-k, was without almost the entire side of his mother’s family.

His entry into the Baltimore City School system was greeted by him entering a remarkable charter school that taught him Chinese (Mandarin) for the good part of his day. This school, Baltimore International Academy, or BIA for short, was filled with great teachers that resided from the country that the language they taught originated, as well as a remarkable principle who understood the culture of the African American children that filled the school. And it was here that young Student X met his best friend, Kester Browne, who was the first child he ever bonded with as a young adolescent.

But weeks before the young students were scheduled to end the school year, Kester was fatally shot in his home, along with his mother Jennifer Jeffrey-Browne. This was devastating to young Student X, who at seven years of age had already grown accustomed to accepting death by those he loved the most. But it was his idea for his father to organize a rally at his school in memory of his best friend and his mother, which he helped his father plan by inviting his classmates and helping to make posters in their memory.

The loss of his best friend wound up being the underlining issue that caused his father to have him transferred to his zone school, since it became evident that the young student wasn’t going to be able to deal with attending the charter school any longer. When he transferred to Govans Elementary, he would go on to continue to excel academically, but his behavioral problems seem to get worst along the way, mostly due to the change in environment. However, the teachers and administrators worked hand-in-hand with the student and his father to ensure his success by utilizing the tools given to them by his 504 plan and helping the child succeed and successfully graduate elementary school with honors.

As he prepared to enter middle school, he tested through the roof and was accepted to one of the most prestigious academic programs in the city, known as the Ingenuity Project. After being accepted, Student X did everything he could to attend the program housed at the prestigious Roland Park Academy; but instead, they sent him to Hamilton.

And it was here that the nightmare began.

Upon entering Hamilton, spirits were high and young Student X was excited about starting a new school year in such a prestigious program. However, it became clear early on that this school and their administrators were not willing to adhere to or address the behavioral issues that were listed in his 504-plan. In fact, the administrators didn’t even address the plan itself with his father for weeks after the start of the school year, and only did so after the student’s behavior became an issue.

After meeting with the student’s father once as a “504 committee”, it became evident that their system was far different than that of his old schools, and that there would be no regular meetings or interaction with these administrators. In fact, Student X’s father never received a call or a text from his teachers or the school unless it was bad news, regularly getting updates of behavioral issues with absolutely no solutions offered or ways to address these issues. It became clear that they were merely trying to get through the school year in order to ensure that they no longer had to deal with Student X.

So it was no surprise when his father received notification from the school that due to his performance, he would no longer be welcomed back to the program – or the school for that matter. However, the father received mixed signals from the school administrators, as one senior administrator told him that while he would no longer be attending Ingenuity classes, he would in fact be welcomed back to Hamilton to attend honors classes in their seventh-grade classrooms. However, this was completely opposite of the position taken by the school’s principal, “Dr.” Patricia Otway-Drummond, who repeatedly told the boy’s father that he was no longer welcomed back to the program or the school itself.

So the father made arrangements to have his son sent to his area zoned middle school, Leith Walk Elementary and Middle, before being told by the Hamilton secretary that the young student was still enrolled at Hamilton in their honors classes, and that he wouldn’t need to transfer the student if he didn’t want to. Weighing the options of sending his son to a new school or keeping him enrolled at a school where he’d still be in honors (when he had to make new friends just a year prior); he made the choice of keeping him enrolled at Hamilton. He was then called by Principal Drummond who informed him that his son was no longer enrolled at the school, asking the father what he planned on doing.

When he informed the principal of his recent actions, and that her own secretary stated that the child was enrolled there for 7th grade honors, she stated that all their slots for honors had been filled and he was no longer enrolled at the school. She later called him back the same day, stating that they could possibly “fit him in” due to the secretary’s “error” in telling the father that his child was still enrolled. (Question: How did you go from having no room in honors to being able to “fit him in” in a matter of minutes?)

Clearly there was no “error”, only a petty principal so willing to give up on a student that they would lie to the parent to get that child out of their hair (school). Is this really a learning environment that we should strive for in a school system that already gets failing marks across the board? Maybe it’s because of administrators like this that our children are failing and so willing to drop out of school before they graduate? When will North Avenue begin evaluating these schools, and their so-called leaders, to ensure that they are adhering to the programs and principles of things such as IEP’s and 504-plans, instead of just shuffling children in and out, seeking the best of the best while looking to cast aside those they “can’t control”.

These are real conversations that need to be discussed when dealing with the future of Baltimore City, and the systems put in place for the advancement, or failure, of its citizens. And if this is happening to young Student X, a bright 12-year old honors child whose father is the author of this article and a child who knows every single Baltimore politician by name (and they all know him); than imagine what’s happening to the child whose parents may not know how to address the inequities happening to them and their child(ren) at the hands of administrators such as this.

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