Briefly Stated: May 3, 2023

May 02, 2023 8 min read
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Milder Autism Form in Kids Outpacing ‘Profound’ Diagnoses

A first-of-its-kind study released recently shows the rate of “profound” autism is rising, though far slower than milder autism cases.

“It’s very important to know how many people have profound autism so that we can properly prepare for their needs,” including more health and education services, said Alison Singer, the executive director of the Autism Science Foundation and a co-author of the paper, which was published by the journal Public Health Reports. Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led the research.

The new study is the first to put a number on the share of U.S. children who have the most severe version of autism. It comes less than two years after an international commission of autism experts established a definition of profound autism: children with an IQ of 50 or less and/or can’t communicate through speaking.

Under that definition, about a quarter of children identified as having autism by age 8 fall into the profound category, the new study found. It means more than 110,000 elementary school-age children in the U.S. have profound autism.

The researchers looked at school and medical records from 2000 to 2016 for more than 20,000 8-year-olds identified as having autism spectrum disorders.

They found that the rate of profound diagnoses grew from about three cases per 1,000 children in 2000 to about five cases per 1,000 in 2016. But the rate of kids diagnosed with milder forms of autism grew from four per 1,000 to 14 per 1,000 over those years.

Milder forms of autism were more common in boys and white children, while profound autism was more common in girls than boys.

A CDC study published in March found that autism overall is being diagnosed more frequently in Black and Hispanic children than in white kids, a change from previous years when white children were more likely to be diagnosed. Experts cite improved screening and services, and increased awareness and advocacy. Among 8-year-olds, 1 in 36 had autism in 2020, the CDC estimates.

The new research found a large racial gap in profound autism. Among Black children with autism, 37 percent had profound autism. The same was true for about one-third of Hispanic kids with autism and about one-fifth of white children with autism.

Biden Tells Teachers of the Year That Teaching Shouldn’t Be a ‘Life-Threatening’ Profession

The event may have been a bit more political than usual, but teachers seemed to appreciate the attention to their profession at last week’s ceremony honoring the 2023 State Teachers of the Year.

President Joe Biden called for gun control, teacher pay raises, more funding for students with disabilities, and preschool expansion.

“Teaching should not be a life-threatening profession,” he told the crowd. “And educators should not need to be armed to feel safe in the classroom.”

Biden used the event as an opportunity to showcase his education agenda a day ahead of his reelection announcement.

Alongside first lady Jill Biden, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and 2023 National Teacher of the Year Rebecka Peterson, Biden applauded teachers for navigating a challenging educational environment and thanking them for their hard work.

Peterson said teachers “are fueled by the equalizing power of public education to dismantle marginalization, eliminate systemic inequities, and end generational poverty.”

Teachers at the event said they’d like to see raises in teacher pay to make up for high costs of living and the increasing demands of the profession. They also want to see more support for LGBTQ+ students and an end to gun violence.

“From my students, I promised them that if I talked to anybody today that was important I would say trans rights,” Danielle Charbonneau, the Massachusetts teacher of the year, said in an interview after the event.

The teachers said the ceremony was a boost of confidence for the profession, noting they’re happy to have multiple educators in the White House with Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who teaches at Georgetown University.

The president’s speech was his first major address this year focused on education. He made school safety, specifically gun control, a primary focus. Biden also criticized book bans and a GOP budget proposal that would effectively cut funding for education and other programs. And he called for support for LGBTQ+ students.

Can School Board Members Block Constituents on Social Media? The High Court Will Weigh In

No question, relations between school board members and their constituents have become more acrimonious. What is up for debate is whether board members have to subject themselves to critics’ comments on their personal social media accounts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to wade into that sticky issue in the case of two local board members who blocked two parents from their personal Facebook and Twitter sites for allegedly spamming them with repetitious comments.

Citing the First Amendment, the parents sued the board members, and, so far, two lower courts have sided with the parents, ruling that since the board members’ social media pages included board business, blocking some constituents amounted to government action. The federal appellate court found that the board members “clothed their pages in the authority of their offices and used their pages to communicate about their official duties.”

Back in 2014, when Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane were first elected to the Poway Unified board in California, both converted their campaign Facebook accounts into sites for information about their board service and the district. O’Connor-Ratcliff did the same with her Twitter account.

On those personal sites, O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane identified themselves as board members and posted about Poway district matters, such as upcoming board meetings.

Parents Christopher and Kimberly Garnier began posting responses to the board members’ social media posts. The Garniers believed the board members were not responding adequately.

The board members eventually blocked the Garniers from Facebook, as well as from O’Connor-Ratcliff’s Twitter account.

The Garniers acknowledged that some of their posts were repetitious, in part to reach more audience members. Lawyers describe the couple as “civic-minded constituents” who regularly attended board meetings and helped bring mismanagement in the district to light.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the board members argue that the appellate ruling “will have the unintended consequence of creating less speech if the social media pages of public officials are overrun with harassment, trolling, and hate speech, which officials will be powerless to filter.”

Bill Would Use IRS Money for Armed School Officers

A Republican lawmaker wants to take money earmarked for thousands of new IRS employees and, instead, channel the funds to arm officers in schools.

The School Guardian Act, introduced by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, would take about $80 billion that Congress previously approved to expand the tax agency and spend it on bringing more law-enforcement and weapons into schools.

“If we can’t prevent them, then we know having an armed response on campus is the fastest way to stop these attacks,” said Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, died in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Republicans in Congress have harshly criticized the sharp increase in IRS funding that was part of President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. The GOP-led House, in fact, made elimination of the IRS money one of its first votes after winning a slim majority in the 2022 midterm elections.

Republicans have argued the IRS money would install thousands more agents to unfairly target Americans over taxes, which Democrats say is highly misleading and not the main purpose of the funding. They say the purpose is to improve customer service and crack down on wealthy tax cheaters.

In any event, the Democratic-led Senate is not planning to take up that measure—and it’s not clear whether Scott’s bill would gain any traction, either.

The legislation would set up a block grant program through the Department of Justice that would potentially fund an armed law-enforcement officer in every K-12 school—all 98,000-plus public schools and over 30,000 private schools.

The grants would flow through state-level law-enforcement agencies, and unused money would be returned each year to the federal government, according to a summary of Scott’s bill.

N.Y.C. to Launch School Dedicated to Dyslexia

New York City is designating its first school explicitly for students with dyslexia. The initiative will also screen detained or incarcerated students for difficulty with reading.

It expands on a pilot program at P.S. 161, part of a $7.4 million investment in screeners and literacy services this school year, which will open as a full-fledged school in September.

During its inaugural year, South Bronx Literacy Academy is expected to serve 60 to 80 students in the 2nd and 3rd grades with documented dyslexia or who show reading challenges through a formal assessment process. Priority will be given to applicants in the Bronx, and the school will receive $710,000 for its specialized programs on top of the usual funding for new schools.

Classes are structured, and teachers are trained to work with kids who have language-based learning disabilities, including read-alouds and adaptive technology. The school offers small class sizes led by co-teachers and backed by speech and occupational therapists, a school psychologist, and a literacy coach. Eventually, it will grow to serve grades 2-8.

The issue is a personal one for Mayor Eric Adams, who himself has dyslexia that went undiagnosed until college. That deferral had a profound impact on his childhood, and he frequently shares personal stories about struggling in school or bullies who taped a sign to his desk chair calling him dumb.

While launching dyslexia screeners in classrooms, Adams has made a similar program on Rikers Island a signature part of his agenda—but faced criticism over its slow rollout.

That effort will begin as a pilot program at East River Academy for students on Rikers—the site of the city’s largest jail—as well as schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx for detained students ages 17 or younger and yet-to-be-determined adult sites in September, according to officials from the city’s adult and alternative programs.

Adams estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of inmates on Rikers are dyslexic.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Libby Stanford, Reporter; Tribune News Service; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2023 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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