For kids, it’s a day off. For the district, it’s a beginning.

Friday, March 4. It’s a day I’ve been hearing about and looking forward to for a while. Today, students are not at school because it’s a district-wide professional development (training) day. And at every school, every member of the staff will receive a half-day of training on how to include students with disabilities.

It’s past time, and today is just a start. But I think it’s also appropriate to pause and reflect on how far we have come in two short years. When I joined the Board in January 2009, the idea that we would devote any time in a precious professional development day (let alone HALF of that day) to improving our special education practices as a district was kind of unthinkable. But here we are.

As part of today’s training, staff at every school will watch a five-minute video that underscores the district’s commitment to improving special education services and expanding our capacity to be inclusive of students with disabilities.  It’s meant to both set the vision for the future, and highlight some bright spots in the district where we are already doing the work of inclusion thoughtfully and successfully. OK, yes, videos are not action — they are not hard evidence that things will really change.  But this video does represent a promise, from the Superintendent himself, expressed more directly and publicly than I have heard it before.  I’m told the video will be posted on the district web site, and I’ll post a link when that happens.

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7 responses to “For kids, it’s a day off. For the district, it’s a beginning.

  1. I apologize if my words came off as inflammatory. I did not mean to say that the inclusion kids will cause more behavior problems. My experience is similar to yours – the behavior issues have not necessarily been connected to kids I know have diagnosed learning disabilities. Instead, my concern is the additional burden on teachers to manage an even wider range of issues within the classroom with limited training and support. It is already challenging enough for them to deal with behavior, learning differentiation, GATE, etc. and then add kids who DESERVE educators with the proper training to meet their needs. This at a time my school is contemplating cutting our paras even further. Again, I believe this needs to be done, but it needs to be done well.

  2. I’d also like to add, to calm down the people who are seeming to panic about this, that classrooms are not going to be all of a sudden “overrun” with “inclusion kids”.
    Last year, in all of SFUSD, approximately 60 Kindergarten students, 38 sixth grade students, and 26 ninth grade students entered “inclusion” programs.
    Most parents will opt to choose schools that already have had inclusion programs… there will be a few cases of a few kids, entering schools that have not included children before, and they are brave parents who are breaking civil rights ground. We should welcome these children, not be afraid of them. Open your minds, people.

  3. As a parent of “one of those included kids” I am disheartened and saddened by the hysteria generated by others about “MORE challenging kids being placed in classrooms” … and the hyperbole that is coming out about including children with disabilities in general education classroom: “As a parent I am truly frightened by the prospect”.
    I agree wholeheartedly that SFUSD must supply the necessary supports for students to be included, and that training about how to include is critical, but can we PLEASE tone down the rhetoric?
    There are many of “challenging” students in classrooms, and in my experience, the students with “inclusion” designations are often far better behaved and less trouble than many of their so-called “typical” peers. In my son’s 1st grade classroom there were 3 children who constantly disrupted the classroom, yelled obscenities, threw chairs, jumped on tables, yelled at the teacher, hit other children and spat, and they were not children with the “INCLUSION” label attached to them which everybody seems so afraid of.
    If a child in inclusion is disrupting your child’s classroom, it is not the fault of the child, it is the fault of SFUSD to support that child’s needs in the classroom. Instead of ostracizing and stigmatizing the child, why not advocate for supports for that child? The only way to learn to include is by including, and the only way the child will learn to function in a general education classroom is by being there.

  4. I agree with James. As a parent I am truly frightened by the prospect of even MORE challenging kids being placed in classrooms that are already struggling with limited support. I would be more confident if I knew the District had very carefully laid the groundwork so every teacher, para, and school was adequately prepared. But I’ve now heard from multiple teachers in my and other schools that there is very little being done to prepare other than limited PD. These changes are important to make, but it is important they are made WELL, in order to truly serve ALL students better. Rachel – I hope you can provide more information that proves my suspicions are groundless.

  5. While I support inclusion, I think it is a little hypocritical of the district to promote it while at the same time cutting a key support mechanism: paraprofessionals. I teach at one of the schools highlighted in the video and am proud of our staff and administration for their proactive approach to bringing true equity to our students. I want every one of my students to be successful, regardless of whatever label they have been assigned, as do my colleagues. But the idea that students will be mainstreamed into an already (over)crowded classrooms with little or no support makes me a little angry. I feel like I’m being set up to fail. Three hours of professional development (one of which is an extremely dry powerpoint presentation and a video whose budget may have been better spent keeping a para or teacher on payroll) does not a special education teacher/paraprofessional make. Their specialized training and experience take years to learn and master and that makes them invaluable and necessary for the success of the students. If this program is to work, we need more not less.

    A line from the video comes to mind as I write this, “Change is never easy.” This is true but that doesn’t mean you have to make it harder. Why hobble this noble effort by cutting it off at the knees? I urge you and the board to work with the district to find a way to properly support this initiative because it truly is worthy of our efforts. To do any less seems, to me, criminal.

  6. This was a very huge day. Thanks for your leadership on this.

  7. September Jarrett

    You brought tear to my eyes about how BIG this small step is. THANK YOU for all you have done to get to this point and move beyond.