Laundromats, Lawyers, Learning Loss, and Life: An Autobiographical Day in Education

Laundromats, Lawyers, Learning Loss, and Life: 

An Autobiographical Day in Education

Dear Colleagues,


   I am told that I am a “fixer”. . . and I suppose that is true.

   On a professional level, I try to “fix” things. . . a chronically-broken district. . . a dysfunctional school. . . a student who is out of control.

   On a personal level, it’s the same thing. I try to analyze and problem-solve challenging situations. . . I look for solutions. . . and I try to “make things better.”

   But, sometimes. . . both professionally and personally, you “make things better,” but you do not fully solve or resolve the underlying challenge.

   And sometimes, there just aren’t any permanent solutions, and you need to “keep on keeping on.”

   Maybe that’s why that great meta-baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said:

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

My Educational Day

   For today’s Blog, I hope you will indulge me as I just “describe my educational day” with some personal and professional reflections that I hope will resonate—at some level—with you.

   I woke up this morning in my hotel on Day 9 of a 16-day business road trip to three cities.

   While today is a “work day,” the school that I was supposed to consult with told me yesterday that they “really didn’t have anything substantial for me to do.”

   Now. . . that’s usually (and it is here) a diagnostic statement.

   Indeed. . . having worked with this school for over four years. . . there are hundreds of things that I could be doing to “move them to the next level of excellence.”

   But regardless. . . I know if I pushed the point above, or showed up anyways—this would cause more harm than good.

   And so, I will spend today focusing on (a) laundry, (b) phone calls, and (c) preparing to deliver a workshop on “Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Tier II Interventions” for another district this afternoon.

How Laundromats Provide Insight into Some Students’ Worlds

   When I work in this north-central area of the country, I stay in a small city of about 33,000 residents.

   And because “I am on Day 9 of a 16-day business road trip,” there is laundry to do.

   The laundromat that I frequent here is clean, well-lit, and “working class.”

   During the day, the Caretaker is a nice woman who always helps me load my “Laundry Card” with the money I need to wash and dry my clothes. In the late afternoon, a High School student takes over. . . learning the important “life” lessons of hard work and how to earn money.

   Today—at around 11 AM—the laundromat had its usual wide variety of clients.

   Because their conversations exceed the muffled din of the washers and the whirling spin of the dryers, it’s not hard to hear about their backgrounds and life events.

   And, given this, it’s hard to not “be a school psychologist” even here. . . in a setting that is so relevant to a real school.

   Among my “clinical” observations today:

  • There was the young mother with a precocious three-year-old who was having a ball enthusiastically exploring every inch of the laundromat. . . much to her mother’s chagrin.

In response, the mother spent her hour at the laundromat conversationally swearing, berating, threatening, and eventually screaming at her child. I assure you, there was a swear-word embedded in every sentence that was spoken to her daughter.

Toward the end of the mother’s “living hell,” she asked the child why she would not listen to her.

I am not judging the mother, but I wondered (a) how these interactions would affect this child’s self-concept; and (b) how she would socially interact with her peers during her first weeks at school (and beyond).

_ _ _ _ _

  • I observed a homeless family of four living out of their car, doing three weeks of laundry, in readiness for “the next stop.” With the “father” and “mother” were two obvious school-aged girls. . . about six and ten. . . who continually tried to get the father’s attention as he shooed them away, remaining transfixed to the videos he was watching on his cell phone.

The mother watched this knowingly, but her look of fear suggested that she would not confront the father’s behavior. . . much less say a word about it.

With the older daughter appearing to protect the younger one, I wondered (a) when was the last time either daughter was enrolled—for a consistent period of time—in school; (b) what were they learning about adult relationships and fixed gender roles from their parents; and (c) how any school would address their “academic skills gaps” at their advancing ages?

_ _ _ _ _

  • Finally, there was an older woman with a younger woman who evidently was her daughter. The daughter clearly had some cognitive challenges, and she tried to help with the laundry as best as she could.

She seemed to need a lot of direction and supervision, and stared at the game show on the TV in the corner, laughing and giggling.

I wondered what type of transition services she received on her IEP before she graduated from high school or “aged-out” of the special education system, and whether there were vocational assessment and placement options for her in the community.

_ _ _ _ _

   While I know we constantly reflect on our students’ out-of-school lives, we still only get a brief snapshot of those lives. We do not see all of the complexities of these lives (not that we expect to), and we certainly do not see the historical complexities.

   As much as we recognize our students’ academic and social-emotional gaps. . . and try to partner with them toward solutions. . . sometimes we and they are just doing the best that we (they) can.

   Regardless of curricular and behavioral standards, state proficiency tests, and the pressure on educators to “be successful,” I sometimes wish that the politicians in Washington, D.C. or our State Education Commissioners would “spend a day in the laundromat.”

   Maybe that would change some perspectives. . . if not, policies.

On the Phone: My Work as an Expert Witness

   I am currently involved in four different special education Due Process or Federal Court cases for clients across the country.

   In two cases, I am supporting the school districts, and in two cases, I am supporting the students (and their families).

   I take cases based on their merits.

   Before accepting a case, I read the litigation filed, research the litigants involved, review any media and social media coverage regarding the case, and interview (as they interview me) the lawyers who want my services.

   Over the past year, many of my cases have involved students with autism. Today, I had a conference call that involved a student with this disability. It reminded me of some recent, past cases.

  • One case involved a student with autism who exhibited significantly dangerous behavior toward adults and peers. Despite a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) that suggested that some of this behavior was motivated (and not a function of his disability), it was impossible to determine—as the behavior was occurring—whether the behavior was motivated and intended, or disability-related.

Regardless, at times, the behavior was so dangerous that the student needed to be restrained or placed in a small isolation room without doors.

On one occasion, the student tried to force his way out of the room. . . and the paraprofessional attempted to physically prevent his “escape.” When the student then physically attacked the paraprofessional, he was moved physically back into the room.

This incident was videotaped.

While the school district saw the paraprofessional’s physical contact as consistent with his CPI training, the parent saw the contact as physical abuse.

_ _ _ _ _

  • Another case involved a student with autism and cognitive impairments who had been out of school for over a year.

While the parents and school district agreed on the last school placement, the private day school involved required the student to have a one-on-one assistant because of her intermittent acting out and aggressive behavior.

When it could not find an appropriate assistant (and refused to accept one from the public school district), the student was returned home.

The district lost the Due Process hearing on FAPE because (a) the IEP was based on inappropriate assessments, and (b) they could not produce and did not share the FBA with the Court or Parents, respectfully.

Most significant was the fact that the district never provided any social skills training, emotional control training, or other appropriate behavioral interventions to address the behavior that was the reason why the student needed the one-on-one support.

_ _ _ _ _

  • The third case involved a student who, before he was in kindergarten, allegedly hit his head and went to two different emergency rooms for treatment on two successive days. A few days later, because of a separate nasal and respiratory condition and infection, the lining around his brain became infected.

The parents sued the medical doctors alleging that a head injury misdiagnosis resulted in the brain inflammation. . . that resulted in a seizure, neurological losses, and the need for significant long-term educational and other physical therapy services and supports.

When the student was two years old, her language development was significantly delayed, and she exhibited numerous “stereotypical” and asocial interactions. The child’s primary care physician expressed concerns about autism, but these concerns were never formally assessed and validated.

Despite this lack of validation, the legal case includes a claim that the emergency room staff never asked if the student had autism, and that this lack of information contributed to the misdiagnosis.

A later special education eligibility assessment concluded that the student was not autistic, but had a Communication/Speech disability.

_ _ _ _ _

   Students with, or suspected with, autism have increased exponentially during my career.

   From both assessment and intervention perspectives, schools need to have experienced, multi-disciplinary professionals involved in these complex and very individualistic cases. Moreover, these professionals may require outside consultations with other, related services, community-based professionals.

   All things being equal, and with no disrespect to other professions, school psychologists and speech pathologists need to be the “point guards” for any case involving a student with autism.

   While, for example, Applied Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) should be part of the team, it is critical to understand that the behavior demonstrated by many students with autism is biologically or neurologically-based, and that communication (or the lack thereof) is often a mediating variable.

   Because of this, it is likely that these students’ acting out and aggressive behavior is not functionally motivated by any of the reasons typically evaluated by a Functional Behavioral Assessment.

   Broader psychological, physiological/neurological, and communication-based root causes need to be considered at the outset. Hence, my recommendation that school psychologists and speech pathologists take the lead on these cases.

Learning Loss and the (Still) Post-Pandemic Blues

   There are some in education who remain obsessed with “catching up” our students who have experienced “learning losses” due to the pandemic. And while I want all of our students to maximize their academic and social-behavioral skills and progress, some of this obsession is just adding more unrealistic (mental health undermining) pressure to our collective plates.

   Over the past number of months, different articles in the national education press have noted that:

  • Fewer students are graduating from High School and enrolling in college—at one level or another;
  • Many who go to college (a) over-estimate their skills and readiness; and (b) need to take remedial courses before they can enroll in credit-earning courses (hence, extending their graduation dates or their drop-out potential);
  • Many students are graduating from High School (some with the lowest GPAs possible), and they have not learned and mastered the basic functional skills (in many areas, including financial and media literacy) needed for “life success;”
  • Many students are not mastering the literacy skills that they need—by third grade—and these skill gaps (regardless of third grade retention or not) follow them through high school; and
  • Many students are entering kindergarten without the academic and social-emotional readiness skills they need for success.

   At the end of today, I presented a workshop at one of my five-year School Climate Transformation Grant districts as part of an ongoing “Tier II Social, Emotional, Behavioral Intervention” series.

   Like many across the country in rural areas, this district serves fewer than 500 students from kindergarten through high school. At the elementary level, there is basically one teacher per grade level. At the secondary level, there are barely enough teachers (teaching Grades 6 through high school) to cover the state-required courses for graduation.

   There is one counselor for the two (elementary and secondary) buildings, the special education teachers are providing 125% of the services required by the students to succeed, the school psychologist is there two days per week, and the technology is passable. . . but questionable every day due to connectivity problems.

   The district is serving a large number of students with autism, developmental delays, behavioral challenges, and chronic attendance problems.

   And it is doing the best that it can.

   You see. . . it is not just about implementing effective practices here. . . science-based literacy, quality Tier I instruction, effective Tier II and III services, supports, and interventions.

   On some days, it is about survival.

   Survival for the students who come from and return to poverty-stricken and drug-impacted homes. . . with missing (and, at times, incarcerated) parents, and other completely dysfunctional factors.

   Survival for the teachers who—in addition to the circumstances above—also deal with their own lives and (mental) health needs, the impact of colleagues who take “mental health days” that inadvertently increase the pressure on other teachers when substitute teachers can’t be found, and can’t implement those “great Tier II behavioral interventions” because three kids are emotionally or behaviorally out of control.

_ _ _ _ _

   That’s how my day ended.

   Many of the things discussed above cannot be easily “fixed.”

   And yet, they can be changed. But that necessitates a realistic, collective effort that involves not just educators. . . but so many others at the home, community, regional, state, and national levels.

   But more critically, that’s how the day ended for these teachers, support staff, and administrators.

   And yet. . . every morning, thousands of educators across this country wake up, take a deep breath, and optimistically approach the new day with a renewed commitment to their students and their craft.

   This is not about false positivism or model schools.

   These educators are realistic about what they do, and they are realistic about what they can do.

   And sometimes, this is what we need to acknowledge and celebrate.

_ _ _ _ _

   By the way, I left the laundromat with all of my socks, and they all matched. . . something else to celebrate!


   This Blog described an autobiographical day in my educational life.

   I discussed and reflected on my psychoeducational observations in a laundromat, on a conference call as an Expert Witness in a court case involving a student with a disability (autism), and relative to the realities of many (rural) school districts that have barely enough staff to address the complex needs of their students.

   Most of these reflections did not include solutions on how to “fix” these challenges.

   Sometimes, we just need to reflect on the life circumstances that we find ourselves in. . . along with those of our students, colleagues, schools, and districts.

   Sometimes, we just need to celebrate the effort. . . and not the unattainable (for some students and staff) outcomes that are prescribed in the standards set by our state departments of education and our representatives in Washington, D.C.

_ _ _ _

A New Funding Opportunity

   When districts or schools are interested in implementing my work—especially when funding is dwindling or short, I often partner with them and help them write (often, five-year) federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

   To this end:

   A new $4 million grant program is coming up in a few months that focuses on moderate to large school districts with at least 25 elementary schools.

   As we can submit multiple grants from different districts, if you are interested in discussing this grant and a partnership with me, call (813-495-3318) or drop me an e-mail as soon as possible (

   A separate five-year $4 million grant program will likely be announced a year from now. This program is open to districts of all sizes.

   If you are interested, once again, it is not too early to talk.

   BOTH grant programs focus on (a) school safety, climate, and discipline; (b) classroom relationships, behavior management, and engagement; and (c) teaching students interpersonal, conflict prevention and resolution, social problem-solving, and emotional awareness, control, communication, and coping skills and interactions.

   If we partner, I will write the bulk of the Grant proposal (at no cost), and guide you through its submission.

   Beyond these grants, if you are interested in my work for your school or educational setting, I am happy to provide a free consultation for you and your team to discuss needs, current status, goals, and possible approaches.

   Call me or drop me an e-mail, and let’s get started.