On January 6, 2021, a group of people, radicalized by false propaganda generated by the 45th President of the United States and his co-conspirators, attacked the United States Capitol with the intent to kidnap and/or murder members of Congress and the Vice President. This is an event that will live in infamy for so long as America remains a nation, and be blamed for it if it does not.
I've been working in special education advocacy, helping parents protect their children with disabilities from physical, emotional, and educational abuse/neglect by the public sector, primarily the public school system, since 1991. By now, you would think there's nothing new for me to see when it comes to all the ways that adults can do wrong by those among us with disabilities. Clearly, I was wrong.
These recent events at the national level have left me with a whole new set of concerns that I believe are important to talk about, right now. Not the least of these concerns is the fact that a profoundly mentally ill president, along with his pathologically self-serving sycophants, exploited the suffering of some Americans with mental illness and the unfounded sense of entitlement experienced by other Americans with mental illness.
In the end, it's a bunch of people with mental health issues frenzying like piranha at the smell of blood in the water and taking down the rest of us with them. The inmates are literally running the asylum, right now, and the survival of us all rests on the shoulders of those of us intact enough to realize what is happening, and equipped to deal with it.
For the last 30 years, it's been my observation - and one I've repeatedly shared - that there are individuals employed within the public education system who believe children with disabilities are expendable and unimportant. In a sea of deprived students in general, special education students are uniquely further deprived because of their disabilities.
It's been my observation that these individuals see their constituents - in this case, our children - as a means to their own personal financial ends, and nothing more. When the costs of educating these constituents increases due to disability, they become a hated burden to those looking to profit off them.
It's not like the public education system is doing that great by any of our kids, right now. It's just that problems that impact education in general tend to have a magnified effect on our kids with special needs. Public school officials will say things like, "My heart is bleeding for your child. I wish there was something I could do," when there's totally something they could do. They just don't want to pay for it, which is unlawful.
Special education laws would have not become necessary back in the 1970s if it were not for the fact that people who do not believe in science or law were already employed in positions of authority within the public education system and engaging in unconstitutional conduct towards children with disabilities at that time. The public schools would refuse to enroll these students at all or, even if they did, let them languish in general education classes until they dropped out.
In spite of compulsory education laws, back in the day, it was totally okay to drop out of school if you couldn't keep up with the instruction and nobody would come after you for truancy. This was what happened to a lot of people with relatively mild challenges, like learning disabilities, who ended up reaching adulthood functionally illiterate and unable to find gainful employment except as factory workers, coal miners, and all the other dangerous jobs that don't require academic skills, in spite of their normal intelligence.
I provided adult literacy instruction to this population at a local vocational/technical college as a young adult in Arkansas. I've met these people. I've seen this play out, first hand.
This has led to a class of individuals who have increasingly lost the ability to support themselves, as robots take over dangerous jobs that don't require real thinking. While the laws that passed in the 1970s were the right place to start, it's foolish to think that enough has changed since then that the system isn't still biased against kids with special needs. If things had changed, I'd have worked myself out of a job a long time ago.
The public education system is biased against any kid who isn't white, male, and expected to inherit property upon reaching age of majority. It was created in its present form during the Industrial Revolution and hasn't changed much since.
For the longest time, public education agency administration was male dominated while the teaching staffs were female dominated, putting men in authoritarian control over women employees. Teachers unions grew out of the very real discrimination and abuse of women in the public education workplace by their male "superiors" around the same time that unions gained popularity among the laborers working ot inher dangerous jobs in factories and mines.
Students, however, have no collective bargaining power. Even though they are the reason the system exists, they are the last individuals served by it. They get whatever leftovers are left after public agency administrators bleed their agencies dry with undeserved six-figure annual salaries while teachers are buying classroom supplies with their own money. Students are just an excuse for politicians to pay themselves.
So, the idea that discrimination and abuse do not manifest in the public education sector is plainly inaccurate. There are mountains of evidence to the contrary, my caseload being only one such mountain. The judicial and legislative history of special education law is not the total point, here, but it's relevant in that it establishes that bad actors in public education have made it necessary to regulate public education to control for their inappropriate behaviors.
The evidence of bad faith in public education has been documented in the courts long enough that I don't have argue it, here. That's a done deal. So, when someone tells me they are worried about child welfare at the hands of government officials, I have to say, "Me too! That's why I'm a child and family advocate."
However, now when someone tells me they are worried about pedophiles in public education, I have to do a double-take and ask, "Why?" That's only because of the whacky Q-Anon and similar conspiracy theories, now going around about Satanic cannibals molesting and trafficking children.
It's not that human trafficking isn't real or horrible. It's that there is zero proof that it's being perpetrated by the people these conspiracy theorists are targeting.
There is proof, however, that the 45th President was pals with a known, convicted pedophile and wished this pedophile's co-conspirator well when she, too, got arrested. He's also been accusing of raping a 13-year-old who was made available to him by this same duo of pedophiles, but these conspiracy theorists are not going after him. They think he is the champion of their cause, which defies logic in every possible way.
Even if the allegations of child rape cannot be sustained against #45, he's sexually assaulted plenty of women and bragged about it on the record. How he's become the champion of a human rights cause given his history of sexual assault and his policies regarding the children of lawful asylum-seekers at our borders is beyond me.
We have all seen news stories of the occasional teacher, aide, specialist, or administrator who gets busted for sexual relations with their students. It's not that pedophiles are not employed within public education; we know some have slipped in and we do a poor job of screening them out, often only finding them after the harm has been done.
The more important point is that a ring of cannibalistic pedophiles do not run public education. The average school district administrator doesn't come anywhere near actual children. They don't appear to care for the company of children; they just want to exploit them for public dollars.
While I don't doubt that there are people employed in public education administration who would gladly traffic in humans if they thought they could turn a profit and get away with it, that's a whole lot of work to make happen within the public education system and not get exposed. It's easier to milk the broken system as it is without taking on that risk. They can get rich by lazier means than selling their students into slavery.
As soon as someone gets caught engaging in pedaphilia with students in the public education setting, most school districts are the ones that call the cops. If school district administrators come to an accused educator's defense, it's either because the educator was wrongfully accused or because the administrators don't want to be held accountable for the fact that they let a pedophile come work for their public education agency, so they're trying to convince everyone that they didn't.
It's not that public education isn't being run by a pack of corrupt jackals. By and large, like local police departments, local school districts get away with as much as they do because they only answer to their local constituents, most of whom don't know how to monitor and audit a school district on an ongoing basis for compliance issues. Jackals are in gross abundance.
Even the most ethical educators can be corrupted once they are promoted into administration, and I suspect most of that is economics. Once they start getting that six-figure annual salary, they start buying nice houses and cars, putting their kids through college, and going on expensive vacations. That quickly creates debt.
If you have a six-figure income, you can pay that debt, but if you lose that income and can't replace it fast enough, you're quickly screwed. This is how good educators get pulled into the Dark Side of the Force when they accept promotions into administration. It's the rare pure soul that sees what's really going on and refuses to be manipulated that way before it's too late.
The overarching problems I see in public school administration are about money, not pedophilia or cannibalism. I've yet to encounter cannibalism, actually, but it's only January 2021, so let's see if this year tops last year for the most disgusting conduct to be revealed among public servants for the whole world to see.
What prompts me to discuss this, now, is the recent resignation of Christine Priola, an Occupational Therapist (OT) from Cleveland Metropolitan School District, one day before she participated in the January 6, 2021 insurrection against the American government. Ms. Priola occupied the Capitol building with other insurrectionists and was photographed in the Vice President's office as part of the occupation.
In her resignation letter, Ms. Priola, who is currently out on bail pending trial, stated she was leaving her job as an OT for the District's special education department for three specific reasons:
- She refused to take the Corona virus vaccine before returning to in-person learning;
- She disagreed with paying union dues because she believes that money is funding abortions; and
- She's embarking upon a fight against child trafficking by government agencies.
So, I'm going to pick these apart one by one, first, and then get into the rest of it.
First, it's unclear if Ms. Priola is an anti-vaxer opposed to vaccines in general, is against the current Corona virus vaccine because it was rushed to market so quickly and she questions its safety and efficacy, or just resents being told she has to take a shot before she can go back to work. Maybe it's a combination of those things.
We don't know why she was opposed to the vaccine, so I can't automatically lump her onto the science-denying anti-vaxer wagon with this limited amount of information, though her overall behaviors incline me to suspect that she could be an anti-vaxer. Because she's an OT, which is a scientific discipline that functions within the medical and educational realms, I don't want to assume too much, here. However, science is a fact-based discipline and Ms. Priola has not be operating according to facts.
When we look at her second objection, the total absence of logic casts an unfavorable light on the first objection, even further. How union dues, which pay for the administrative overhead of each union's operations, somehow funds abortions makes no sense.
The district may withhold those dues from educators' paychecks, but there is an audit trail that shows where that money goes. If you're worried about where the money is going, you do a request for public records asking for the accounting details and turn them over to a grand jury if you find that the money is being misappropriated.
The rule of law already provides a remedy for the misuse of public funds. You don't raid the Capitol with the intent of hanging the Vice President to death to resolve issues such as these.
The idea that the rule of law had collapsed to the point that it was ineffective cannot be argued, here. Ms. Priola did nothing on record to resolve the issue with where her union dues were going before resorting to the violent overthrow of the government and an effort to assassinate the Vice President.
The government already had a legal remedy that she chose not to access and the "remedy" she opted for instead did not fit the situation. This strongly suggests disordered thought. It also, however, goes to the degree to which legitimate remedies to harm done are often inaccessible to everyday Americans because they can't afford to lawyer up every time the government shirks its responsibilities and hurts people. When the appropriate options are closed off to people, they are only left with the inappropriate ones.
This is where peaceful protests for changes to the rules become such an important part of democracy, none of which involves insurrection or execution. Insurrection as a more expedient option to litigation speaks to the degree to which the legal system is often unavailable to most people because of the associated costs, but it's not a valid excuse for what Ms. Priola has done. Ease of access to remedy may have made it less likely that she wouldn't have done something literally insane, but that's speculative at this point.
The third justification for resigning given by Ms. Priola was that she's embarking upon a fight to protect children from abuses by government employees. On it's face, I can't take issue with that because I've been fighting to protect children with disabilities - the same students Ms. Priola served as an OT - from abuses within the public education system for the last 30 years.
Very often, though, I'm protecting them against people like Ms. Priola who are so divorced from science and, therefore, reality that they engage in violations that require me to file complaints with regulators. Again, the rule of law provides a remedy. The difference between Ms. Priola's efforts to protect children and mine is that I use science and law to protect my babies. She's trying to kill the members of Congress most likely to help her protect children from the real predators.
I've never had to violently overthrow a government agency or hang anybody to protect a child from government employees. Has the rule of law let my babies down, before? Yes, in hugely significant ways. Has the rule of law protected my babies when I've pursued enforcement of it? Yes, more often than it has not. It's not a perfect system, but insurrection on behalf of the people responsible for undermining it is not going to fix anything.
And, it's not like I haven't seen evidence of child trafficking in government agencies. I have, just not in public education. Specifically, I've been working on a separate justice project with our organization's founder, Nyanza, to address the egregious over-incarceration of African-Americans in Oklahoma that dovetails with what may be State-sponsored child trafficking.
Based on the publicly available research data we've gathered to date, it appears there may be an orchestrated mechanism in place in which officials in the State of Oklahoma incarcerates people of color and remove their children from their homes through the Child Protective Services (CPS) system, only to place these children in privately owned foster care facilities and/or adoption agencies that operate for profit.
It appears that at least some of the foster care and adoption agencies in Oklahoma that participate in this dynamic are owned, at least in part, by State officials responsible for passing and enforcing the laws of Oklahoma, from which they profit. It should be noted that Oklahoma's CPS system was found to have been responsible for the death, rape, and maiming of many children processed through this system via a federal class action lawsuit that resulted in a consent decree that is not being properly enforced.
CPS employees have come out as whistleblowers to advise that the "proof" of compliance with the consent decree is falsified information and Oklahoma isn't taking this federal court consent decree as anything other than one more thing to lie about. It should also be noted that all of the individuals involved in these behaviors appear to be Republicans, or they were at the time the data we collected were gathered.
From what we've seen so far in our data, it appears that Oklahoma lawmakers and judges are incarcerating people so they can steal their children and sell them for profit. If true, that's a legitimate State-sponsored human trafficking ring that needs to be shut down immediately. But, it isn't a Satanic group of Hollywood actors and Democrats eating and raping children.
While this possible human trafficking ring has not been investigated as such to my knowledge, thus far, it's one of those things that can't last forever without someone getting caught. Nyanza and I are working to get enough evidence together to get the situation investigated, and she's been filing documents this whole time, but that's how you address these things. We are availing ourselves of the mechanisms of our imperfect, but better than anarchy, democracy to fix this heinous problem. Whatever is responsible for Oklahoma's ridiculous incarceration and CPS numbers is a problem that needs to be fixed, regardless of what it is.
This is painful because we know of families suffering horribly because of what is currently happening until this gets resolved, but justice can take time. I've learned that lesson from 30 years of working cases from IEP meetings all the way up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and you don't always win. But, you always make a difference, even when you lose on some technicality. I've had cases where we lost on an issue, but just barely. The involved districts knew the next time they pulled the same stunt, they wouldn't necessarily get lucky again, and have changed their practices as a result.
What I've learned from relying on the rule of law to address failures of the system is that you have to look at things in the aggregate. It becomes a measure of how many things I've prevailed on versus how many things I have not, and I've prevailed on more things than I haven't. Overall, my work is highly effective. On a day-by-day basis, it's a mixture of resolution and being obstructed by law-breaking public servants.
You have to get to the point where you can identify when it's time to negotiate and when it's time to collect evidence and file a complaint of some kind. We have processes and procedures already to address all of the concerns raised by Ms. Priola's resignation letter, none of which involve insurrection and execution of elected officials.
So, having said all that, now I have to turn to the issue of people who think like Ms. Priola who are still employed in public education. I first have to say that she may be in the minority, but we don't know how large or small that minority is because they have not been outspoken within the public education context, thus far.
Further, because I have been dealing with disordered thought on the part of school district personnel that results in harm to children for the last 30 years, I'm willing to believe that people whose thinking is as impaired as Ms. Priola's appears to be are still deeply rooted in special education, right now. Whether their disordered thought makes them vulnerable to Q-Anon and similar propaganda or not isn't anything I can answer. But, Ms. Priola's departure from science in spite of her scientific training is consistent with much of what I see in special education when things go wrong.
What this really comes down to is a concern that I've had for years and have spoken about with colleagues, but we haven't really figured out the most appropriate way to address it. What is happening now and the national dialogue around it may have finally opened a door to deal with this issue, and that issue is the societal impact of having so many members of our population who are apparently incapable of logical thought when it comes to abstract concepts like justice, democracy, and fascism. And, it circles back around to the quality, or lack thereof, of our public education system.
One of the tools I regularly use, or request that it be used, in special education is a standardized assessment called the Southern California Ordinal Scales of Development (SCOSD). The history of what led to the SCOSD's creation is a story unto itself, but suffice it to say that it is a scientific way of measuring all the different domains of development according to Piaget's stages of development.
The SCOSD breaks development down by subtest into cognition, communication, adaptive abilities, social-affective functioning, and motor skills. It is possible for an individual to function at a higher developmental level in one area than other areas. Each person's outcome on the measure paints a picture of their relative strengths and weaknesses across the developmental domains. When working with children and young adults with developmental disabilities, this becomes important to designing effective programs for each of them.
What I've come to realize from the data I've seen produced by the SCOSD over the years is that it is possible for someone to have age-typical cognitive and communication skills, but then have below age-typical social/emotional functioning. What this means is that their emotional development is delayed while their abilities to acquire academic and job skills are intact. They can emulate adult behavior, but their motivations are child-like because of their delayed social/emotional functioning.
When otherwise intelligent people get whipped up into an emotional frenzy over things not supported by any credible evidence, this disconnect between intelligence and social/emotional functioning is apparent. When otherwise intelligent people argue against evidence that they did something incorrectly, this same disconnect is again apparent.
This disconnect is what I've been fighting over the years more than anything else. Any reasonably intelligent and socially/emotionally intact person would not engage in the kinds of crap I encounter in the public education system. Most of what I encounter in the public education system is the consequence of ineptitude, not a cabal of cannibals.
If any kind of cabal exists in public education, it's the same one currently running the American Presidency into the ground. All of this makes me think of the right-wing folks in Orange County, California, who started a non-profit membership organization, self-described as a "brotherhood," of school district officials who would all pay membership dues and then use that money to finance legal battles against parents of children with disabilities.
It also makes me think of Lozano Smith, a law firm that infamously (within special education circles) got eviscerated by a federal court judge after trying to lie, cheat, and steal in a special education due process appeal. The firm, the responsible attorneys, and the district it was representing all got sanctioned for jerking everybody, especially the court, around with their lies.
All of the firm's attorneys were ordered to participate in additional ethics training, in addition to the reprimand and sanctions meted out by the court. At the time, Lozano Smith had over 200 attorneys on staff statewide throughout California. Shortly thereafter, most of them jumped ship and went to different firms or started their own firms. It's quite reminiscent of what we are seeing in Washington, DC, right now, as cabinet members and other high-ranking personnel turn their backs on the outgoing President in the wake of all the destruction and death he has caused.
Lozano Smith is still around, but I haven't encountered them in the field in several years. The last big thing I saw from them was in 2013 when my colleague, David Grey, prevailed on a case at the 9th Circuit against two school districts engaging in the same violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At least one of the involved districts filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was shot down; the Supreme Court declined to try the case.
When the Supreme Court appeal was first filed, Lozano Smith, which had been uninvolved at that point, wrote an amicus brief that looked like something that could have been produced by Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. It made nearly hysterical arguments about how the 9th Circuit's interpretation of the ADA would undo decades of precedent within the public education system, as though decades of an established practice of discrimination should be maintained.
The point is that the conservative "fringe" has never been the "fringe." To quote Stephen Colbert, "Lunatic fringe? There were tens of thousands of people in that murderous mob. The day after the riot, a poll found that 45% of Republican voters backed the attack on the capitol building. That’s not a fringe! That’s almost half the outfit! If you wore a suit that was 45% fringe, you’d be arrested for public indecency! But at least we’d be able to see through your pants to know you don’t have any balls!“
Based on how scholars look at the political spectrum, conservatives have gone further and further to the right towards radicalization as the left has remained predominantly centrist. The far right looks at centrist politics and mischaracterizes them as the "radical left." Democracy is not the radical left.
Conservatism is no longer part of democracy in this country; it's become a movement towards dictatorship in which 45% of the population believes it needs to be led by the nose by a demagogue. When left to think for themselves, these individuals run towards authoritarianism, thinking these leaders understand their needs and will fight for them, rather than exploit them to help take over and then kick them to the curb when they no longer serve a useful purpose.
It's my suspicion that, once the people who participated in the insurrection realize that the 45th President will let them rot in jail for taking up his cause while he claims to have nothing to do with any of them, his base will finally get the backstabbing that has been coming their way this entire time and will realize he's not in their corner like they thought. We can at least hope getting stabbed in the back will have this effect.
We're going to have to watch the prosecuted go through this epiphany over time as we try each of their cases one by one. The stories we're going to hear from these people are going to reveal legitimate unmet needs, impaired problem-solving skills, and exploitation of those factors by Republican terrorists looking to radicalize them.
Those of these defendants with the mental wherewithal to realize they've been played and the emotional stability to own it will turn on those who exploited them, as have many former allies of #45, such as Michael Cohen. Those who don't have the emotional stability to own the fact that they made a mistake in judgment will continue to assert they've done nothing wrong and describe themselves as political prisoners rather than criminal insurrectionists and traitors.
In the minds of the insurrectionists, as they've reported themselves, they were responding to the call of their President to defend democracy. If that's what you're really doing, defending democracy isn't bad. But democracy relies on the rule of law. You defend democracy by participating in it and putting its mechanisms into constructive use, not trying to overthrow it.
If our democracy is not working for all of the people - and people of color, indigenous people, LGBTQ+ people, women of all stripes, and people challenged by disability can attest that it has not for a very long time - we need to fix it. What boggles the mind is that now that groups made up mostly of white males in this country are finally beginning to experience the lack of undemocratic entitlement and advantage they've historically known, their response to advocate for themselves is to engage in insurrection. This means that what they want is nothing a true democracy would ever give them, and that tells you all you really need to know about them.
There is absolutely a silver lining in all of this, and I rely on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to inform that determination. In ABA, there is a term that I've discussed in previous posts called "Extinction Burst," and that's part of what we are looking at with the current state of things. In an Extinction Burst, a behavior that had previously been reinforced is no longer being reinforced, and the organism tries to force reinforcement to come by escalating its behavior.
Think of it this way: If, every day, you put money in a vending machine and a candy bar comes out, the candy bar reinforces the behavior of putting money into the machine. But if, one day, the candy bar gets stuck and won't come out of the machine, what do we do? Walk away sad? No! We beat on the machine in an effort to make the candy bar dislodge and come out.
That's an Extinction Burst. If the candy bar dislodges and comes out, it reinforces the behavior of beating up the machine. If beating the machine doesn't work, then you walk away sad. After than, you're less likely to use the machine again. If you stop using the machine altogether, the behavior of putting money into it becomes extinct.
What is happening in this country with the radicalized right is an Extinction Burst. Behaviors engaged in by the right wing that were previously reinforced are no longer being reinforced. The behaviors of the 45th President, his co-conspirators, and his followers over the last five years, leading up to January 6, 2021, and what may still yet happen as the 46th elected President takes office, have been an extended Extinction Burst.
The most important thing about an Extinction Burst when you're trying to extinguish an inappropriate behavior is that you cannot allow it to produce the reinforcement being sought. If you want someone to give up on the candy machine, there can be no way to beat the machine until candy comes out.
We want the radical right to give up on trying to destroy democracy, so we cannot allow their behaviors to result in the reinforcement they are seeking, which, here, is to remain in power regardless of the will of the people. This includes holding them accountable according to the letter of the law. That's what I've been doing in my niche of governmental accountability for the last 30 years and it's the only way to preserve democracy going forward.
The other silver lining, here, is that in spite of all their efforts to overthrow democracy, it's our democracy that will ultimately prevail. When we apply the rule of law to what they have done, democracy will have the opportunity to defend itself.
What saddens and scares me the most is the number of people whose developmental weaknesses and mental health conditions are being exploited by the right wing to radicalize them into becoming domestic terrorists while convincing them they are upholding American principles through their terrorism. When we talk about the mental health problems in this country, we tend to point to homelessness and addiction issues, like this is the only way they can hurt us.
As an advocate for people with disabilities, I am torn between being sad for and fearful of these individuals. On the one hand, we absolutely need to hold them accountable under the law. But, we prove the point that the system is skewed towards specific demographics when mentally ill right wing radicals suddenly get criminal consequences and nothing to address the real-world problems that they couldn't solve that propelled them into radicalism.
In the end, once again, it's people with disabilities being used as political pawns by self-serving, undeserving, overpaid public officials looking to line their own pockets with taxpayer dollars as part of a grift. This is something I know all too well in special education.
I'm willing to believe, in light of the evidence thus far, that decades of special education failures have produced an entire class of emotionally disturbed adults who are still vulnerable to the manipulations of public officials and that Ms. Priola and many of her compatriots are among them. I'm also willing to believe, in light of the evidence thus far, that the people manipulating them are just as mentally ill; they just have money and power.
I will never pretend to have all the answers, here, but I do know a thing or two that can help. All of us do. We need to weave our efforts together to repair the fabric of our country and make it stronger than it was in the first place. It's not impossible. This country's founding was far more difficult than its current preservation and we can do this.