Tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting will feature the long-awaited results of the district’s special education audit. For those of you at home, the meeting isn’t being televised but the report is here (PDF). I’ll post a summary of the meeting later tonight or tomorrow morning.
Finally, the special ed audit report
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@E. Rat, SFUSD staff on several occasions told me (in the old days when I was “just” a parent) that sensory integration/sensory processing issues were “controversial” and not something that the district recognized as a “real” disability. Hmph. Maybe I should put out a Donors Choose request to buy 5,000 copies of “The Out of Sync Child” to distribute within the district.
I understand from a colleague who attended the presentation that the Board discussed many of the issues I have with the report (lack of detail). I’m also interested in how the District can support regular classroom teachers as we move toward RtI, not just with materials but also with training.
I was disappointed by how little attention was paid to sensory processing issues in the report. It is my strong feeling that many students who end up needing special education services have sensory issues that could be ameliorated in the regular classroom, and that teachers do not have enough support in identifying problems in this area and providing intervention – and that sensory supports, even when identified in an IEP, are not provided.
It is sad reading this report when you see that, 11 years ago, the Superintendent mandated that all special ed kids be moved into the general classroom, yet the District simply ignored that directive. It also makes me sad when I see in the report how administrators uniformly talk about special education programs as a “drain” on budgets. It makes me think that making broad and sweeping pronouncements just isn’t going to work — it will ignored by the District, especially in this period of budget cuts. I also worry about foot-dragging. Instead, Rachel, can’t we start making small bits of progress with concrete practical suggestions? First, at the middle school level where special ed choice becomes so restricted, can’t the District identify one or two K through 8’s other than Lillienthal (which is impossible to get into in the upper grades) to offer Inclusion? Special ed kids do better in smaller grade-sized schools. Some K through 8’s already have the special ed people in place to do this — Rooftop comes to mind. Second, for the kids now in Special Day, can’t we start moving some of them into the classroom at the elementary school level now? Particularly in K through 3 where class size is small, the District could order schools with Special Day to move those kids into gen ed classrooms, with the classes being team-taught by the regular teacher plus the special ed teachers. Anyway, these are just thoughts, but I want to emphasize that small concrete steps that could actually HAPPEN are better than grand pronouncements that will never happen.
As you said at the meeting, sadly, not much in the report is news to us. The CAC for Special Education has, for years, been recommending most of what The Urban Collaborative has listed in their recommendations, but it is good to be backed up by their report. It is good to read what has been my mantra for the last 7 years: “Inclusion” is a SERVICE not a PROGRAM, and yes, it must be available in EVERY school. Students should attend the schools they would attend if not disabled.
And how all this would effect special education student assignment, how that would “look”? The services follow the student, the student does not follow the services. I still insist that placement decisions should be made at IEP meetings, and that placement means actual school site, not “program”.
I will say, now, though, that the district’s legal counsel’s repeated insistence that SFUSD is always in compliance with the Law, that children’s IEPS are always adhered to and followed, and that the current assignment system for children receiving special education services is entirely legal, is just nonsense. I could give you a 4 page list of instances of non-compliance over the last few years. I could give you a list of non-compliance happening now; claiming SFUSD is always in compliance is completely disingenuous.
What disturbs me the most is that SFUSD staff and Board members seem to believe the lawyers when they make such ridiculous claims. Board members must have caught the lawyers being less-than-honest about things before, well, they also are less-than-honest about special ed compliance.
How can they state that “there is no reason to assume that children are being misidentified”, when nearly 50% of children put into segregated classrooms for “Emotional Disturbance” are African American?
I know it is the district’s counsel’s job to say those things, but just saying things doesn’t make them true. Do they not think it possible that some kids have been misidentified? I think one of the first things SFUSD should do is take a random sampling of those students (say, 30 out of the about 220 AA children placed in ED classrooms) and have UCSF psychiatrists evaluate them, and see if they come up with the same “diagnosis”. This could probably be paid for through the medi-cal system. I think the “ED” label is being over-used, misused and abused. I think some of those children have autism, and never got any help for their autism, and we all know how absolutely critical early intervention is, for children with autism.
If we are going to bring about change in SFUSD Special Ed, SFUSD has to stop letting the lawyers run the show, and get back into the “business” of educating our children. Admit that mistakes have been made, and move on to make sure the same mistakes do not keep happening.
I couldn’t read the report much during the three hour meeting; I’ll respond more about it after I’ve had a chance to study it.