Public comment: a parent’s views on special education

I received this email tonight, from a parent who wasn’t able to speak at Tuesday night’s board meeting (the video of the meeting is here; the CAC for Special Education item starts about two hours in).  I think it’s worth posting here (with the parent’s permission, and edits to keep it anonymous), because it sums up where we aren’t (and need to be) in special education:

I am the parent of two children at ______ Elementary and have been involved in Special Ed either through Resource or Speech or both for the last eight years.  My children have always been in general ed with a push out/pull in model and are examples of the 80% of  Special Ed children who are invisible on the playgrounds around the district.

Even though children like mine comprise 80% of the Special Ed population they comprise very little of the conversation about meeting the needs of Special Ed children.  My children go to one of the premier  elementary schools in the district but I would argue that the RSP services rank along with probably the most mediocre.  I like many parents in this district have had to go outside of the district to get proper remediation for my  children. 

My youngest child has a Specific Learning Disability and has been referred by Resource at my school to Slingerland Summer school for the last two summers yet she has never seen this method used in her resource work.  Why would we recommend an intervention that they (the professionals) at the district do not practice ourselves?  I think the answer is that the resource teacher knows what the child needs but is not trained to work with the child in the needed methodology. Between 4 and 6 kids every year from [school] get referred to Slingerland every summer ( 3 hours a day for six weeks at a cost of between $1000-$2000 per kid–and this is inexpensive for this type of work–$90 per hour is going rate) yet we do not have the RSP teacher trained in the method for use year round with all her clients.

 That we do not have a trained reading specialist available to each site seems almost criminal as one in five children nationwide experience some level of difficulty in acquiring reading skills.  It should not be by sheer accident of birth that a child is born into a family that can afford to pay for proper remediation so the child has the opportunity to learn to read.  All children with normal cognitive abilities can be taught to read given the attention  and most importantly proper teaching methodologies.

This brings me to the Board’s response to the CAC Report last night.  I felt in listening to the interaction between the Board and the Committee representatives that the commissioners . . .  lacked awareness in the issues facing the CAC committee and parents of disabled children in the district.  Please note:

  • There were comments made about the level of outreach and representation that the committee makes to African American and Latino Families.  The committee is comprised of volunteers with no funding (even for photocopies!) to make outreach to a population that due to “confidentiality” issues are isolated. I am not a member of the CAC but attend meetings regularly ( as I noted I have had kids in Spec Ed for 8 yrs and was not aware of the committee until last year or PAC for that matter!) and I would invite [Commissioners] to take the time to attend a meeting to see the diversity and meet the parents.  My name is [not Latino] and my children are Latina–representative of the diversity and mixed heritage of families in our city–do not judge by surname or the skin color of the parent representing the child.
  • The issue is probably less of race than of resources.  If African American and Latino families are over represented in Special Ed, I would argue that they are also the least able to pay for the expensive remediation or services needed to keep their kids out of Special Ed. For the 80% of Special Ed  kids  who are in resource (also over represented by these groups) a really hard look at how we are implementing RTI in grades K-2 and if these K-2 teachers are trained to spot and act on early signs of at risk for reading failure would be of incredible value to those students (frankly  of life changing value).  This does not even speak to the at risk kids who are unidentified in our district…low third grade reading scores speak for them….
  • I would argue that critique of CAC representation should be more about disability than race.  A better representation would be well rounded in having experience in the programs for Special Ed rather than focusing on race.  I have no experience with Inclusion or Special Day classes and would not be able to speak on that experience…regardless of race you need representation based on exposure to programs.

For all the talk about “Social Justice” last night I can only say that I felt that the basic needs of the children are being left out of the conversation.  I believe that what every parent wants in this district (and hopes they get for their tax dollars) is a system that gives every child the same opportunity to a good education to prepare themselves for their responsibilities as adults in the community.  This free education should be available to every child regardless of race, economic status or disability.  We need to see that we do not stray from that path.

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5 responses to “Public comment: a parent’s views on special education

  1. “There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.” —- Thomas Jefferson
    It think the legal dept at SFUSD hasn’t figured this out yet. Both in terms of the CAC parents and the sped kids in the lottery placement.
    Yes Katy! I think it’s time to get some fical support.

  2. Or Robin, how about the study that was just released that showed parents of children with autism have stress levels higher than COMBAT SOLDIERS? Yet still we volunteer at our children’s schools at TWICE the rate of parents of “typical” kids.
    (And I am going to ask for “fiscal support” as the ED Code dictates … I just didn’t want to do it at the BOE meeting last Tuesday)

  3. This parent is right is so many ways.
    Except i don’t think the RSP is mediocre, I think it is fraudlent. The RSP system is designed to help children with reading disorders / SLD yet almost none are trained to do so unless they go out and spend their own money on methodology such as orton gillingham or lindamood bell. The proof lies in the SARC reports noting the severe discrepantcy in language arts and math scores between the RSP kids and the regular ed kids. It is prevalent at every single SFUSD school.
    Last night at the board meetings the board passed a policy to make sure teachers were trained in ESL for english laanguage learners.
    Why can’t this be done for the teachers who are supposed to be teaching (and failing to do so effectively) to the 70% of sped kids who have SLD?
    Re Jane Kims response comparing us to the PAC. Our CAC parents population and attendees are extremely handicapped in a number of ways.

    1) In terms of financial support from SFUSD even tho Ca Ed law says we are supposed to be fically supported, we are not. The PAC is fiscally supported.

    2)As I pointed out to the board last night, a study published this week on caregivers to children with learning or other disabilities work 29.7 to 41 hours per WEEK over and above what regular parents caregiving takes!

    3)Almost all CAC members work outside the home too. Sped kids are VERY expensive and require additional therapy and tutoring than reg ed kids do.

    4) Many of the African American parents I work with on a regular basis fear the school adminstartion and do not want their names published as they are distrustful and fear retailiation against their children.

    Last year there was an attempt by SFUSD to blame the CAC members for lack of member representation when, in fact, it is SFUSD these parents fear.
    We have a good number of African American and Latino attendees and that is the most important thing. No person has ever been denied membership.
    At any rate, I think it is wrong to keep sniping about the adults, it is the children CAC wants to focus on. That is why we did not argue about the “representation” issues, nor did was ask for the financial support we are entitled to. We want our educational recommedations to be remembered and not be diluted in any way.

  4. Hi,
    Thanks for your support of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education.
    It is hard making recommendations every year because it never seems to make any difference. The previous special education director referred to the recommendations on our report as “our little suggestions”.
    Luckily, the climate is not as hostile nowadays, and we are more hopeful about being listened to by SFUSD than I ever remember being before.
    We do have a hard time doing outreach with no resources. As you said, we don’t even have any funding for photocopies, so when a member of the Board of Education asked us, at the meeting, to please supply the audience with copies of our reports, I sort of wanted to scream … the report, including the attachments, is about 40 pages … so am I supposed to pay to make 100 copies of it at OfficeMax at 4 bucks each (400 bucks) out of my own money? All of us on the committee spend money out of our pockets for inks, paper, copies, postage, gas, etc. all the time, but we’re all getting tired of it, especially when the District seems to pay no attention to what we do.
    The Calif Ed Code says the district is supposed to fiscally support us, but nobody has ever defined what that means.
    I think it would include use of a copy machine, wouldn’t it? A few laser toner developer cartridges? A box of paper?

    I agree with everything you say about the lack of reading specialists at schools, and what a crime it is that these kids are not getting the help they need, and are not learning how to read, when with the right help –they could. CRIMINAL!

    And we need parents on our committee who have children in RSP programs … but even if you cannot join, please keep coming to meetings and please speak up and tell us what issues you are dealing with.

    Here’s the current Special Education enrollment breakdown:

    6,457 students receiving special education programs in SFUSD

    (35.75%) 2,303 students in SDCs– Special Day Class –Segregated Self-Contained Classrooms

    (34.85%) 2,249 students in RSP – Resource Specialist Support (in General Education)

    (17.53%) 1,131 students in DIS – Designated Instructional Services (Speech, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy) in General Education

    (8.53%) 550 students in Inclusion – in general Education

    (3.48%) 224 in NPCs – Non Public School (private school placement at district expense)

  5. Rachel, I was at the board meeting and was able to speak. The ombudsman talked me into saying something positive (about the effective changes that my child’s elementary school was making to help children with reading based learning disabilities). This was a particularly tough meeting and I thought that she was right. And it felt like all of you commissioners (particularly President Maufas) needed a bit of a break. However, the below is what I had prepared to say:

    Good Evening. I would like to speak about two children. Both are bright happy children. Both could not seem to be able to read.

    One of them, my daughter is extremely dyslexic. She could not decode at all by the beginning of 3rd grade. Though identified as LD for about a year, she had made no progress with the services offered by the school. I started taking her to a Lindamood Bell tutor afterschool. A year later, she can decode above grade level, and her vocabulary is excellent. She still needs work on her fluency and comprehension.

    The other little girl, who was in fourth grade, also extremely dyslexic, was at the same tutor on scholarship. Since she had started the tutoring program, she had made enormous progress. Her mom and I would talk about how crazy happy the first time our daughters could read advertising on a sign, which we thought would never happen. Even though in 3rd and 4th grade, previously our daughters COULD NOT READ AT ALL .

    Now the sad part of the story. My daughter is continuing with the tutor. My friend’s daughter’s scholarship ended. I have the financial wherewithal to (barely) pay for the tutoring. My friend, a single mom, does not.

    I remember her mom crying, “What is my little girl going to do” after the tutoring ended. She was just beginning to learn to read, and then she had to leave the program. The assistance that she was getting at her public school was not incorporating any method that worked, but that is what she had to go back to.

    My child will be fine, because I can pay for the instruction she needs. Many many others, especially those in disadvantage circumstances, will finish or leave or be thrown out of the school system being functionally illiterate. This is heartbreaking and completely unnecessary.

    There are methods that have around for decades, primarily based in Orton – Gillingham or Lindamood Bell, than can be used to remediate and teach our children with learning differences to read. If caught early, effective remediation can take place over months, or over a year. I request that the school indentify children in kindergarten and first grade who have signs of reading differences, give them the tools early to teach them the way they need to be taught, and keep the bright happy faces on those children, cheerfully learning along side of their peers.