Tag Archives: special education

Grrr. SF charter school counsels out child with mild-moderate disabilities

I got an email today that is really setting me off. I am redacting identifying details to protect the family, and because I believe this happens all the time: in many ways the specific school doesn’t matter. Read:

I did some research to see what would be the best option for my child. I really liked the idea of [redacted], and I thought it would work for my child with the right support. [redacted} charter school was one of my choices, so I spoke with its resource specialist. [redacted] was very fair and kind, but . . . told me that children with [disability] are typically not a good fit for [charter school]. This school is recommended for children who are independent and are able to learn without much of adults intervention. [emphasis added] I sent [redacted] my child’s last IEP in advance, and [redacted] thinks [redacted] disability is too severe that [school] may not be able to support [child] as it is a charter school with limited resources.

Wow. The parent who wrote me describes the child as having a speech delay and lacking social skills compared to peers. She wrote: the child is  “advanced academically and is able to follow directions. . . I would not call [child]’s’ disability ‘severe.'”

So here’s my question. Would the same charter school tell parents of typical children that it serves children who are able to learn without much adult intervention? I really doubt it, since that wouldn’t be a very good selling point.

This is a hot button for me because the practice of “counseling out” children who are more difficult and time-intensive to educate (read: expensive) is a common complaint about charter schools. Charters are particularly notorious for failing to serve students with disabilities — and parents of students with profound intellectual or physical disabilities often don’t even try to enroll their children at charter schools because it’s so rare that their kids are actually served at these institutions, even though Federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities apply to charter schools in the same way they apply to district-managed public schools.

I want to believe what the leaders of our district’s charter schools tell me — I really do. Every school talks about its commitment to serving all students, particularly those with challenges, how they want to increase opportunity for all students and how they are just struggling, underfunded public schools just like district-managed schools. And then I hear things like this parent’s story.

Tonight I did talk to a parent whose child with autism was served well at this particular charter school, and she urged me to get a fuller account before judging. Indeed, it appears that the professional that the original parent who wrote me talked to might be an SFUSD employee and not an employee of the charter school. So there is more fact-finding to do about this particular situation. On the other hand, in response to a Facebook post this evening I got an email from a different parent who experienced a similar situation a year or two ago:

My child is visually-impaired and when we were applying to SFUSD high schools, I called the head of special ed at each of the schools we were looking into, [redacted], [redacted], [redacted] and [charter].  I was really, really interested in [charter].  I’d heard that it was great . . .  When I spoke to the RSP, that was not my impression.  I was told no students with visual impairments had attended [charter], they don’t offer as many special education services as most of the schools in district. They didn’t have any special day classes.  I was told that because they were a charter school, [child’s] IEP didn’t really apply. 

To be fair, the parent also said that a highly-selective district-managed comprehensive high school was similarly discouraging. Her child is now in another district-managed high school and doing great. She isn’t looking to rock the boat, but was interested in sharing a perspective because I raised the topic.

I want all public schools, whether they are privately-managed charter schools or district-managed traditional schools, to be very thoughtful about their obligations to students with disabilities and to remember that their charge is to serve ALL, without barriers. Tonight’s communications have reminded me that we aren’t there yet and need to do much, much better by our students with disabilities.


Let’s celebrate inclusive schools week!

Every year, the first week of December is Inclusive Schools Week. More than anything else, Inclusive Schools Week is about inspiring all of us to think bigger about who we are, which students our schools serve, and how we can serve every student better.

So, to help get you in the mood, here are some stories I find incredibly inspirational:

Including Samuel is a documentary made by a photojournalist whose second son, Samuel, was born with a disability. Samuel’s family believes strongly he should be included in mainstream classrooms, but they also understand the trade-offs that full inclusion can require.

Here is Samuel’s father, Dan Habib, giving a TED talk:

Harper’s Playground came to be after  Harper’s parents learned they would be parents of a child with a disability. They immediately wondered: how would they help Harper play with other children and find friends? From that, a movement toward more inclusive play spaces for children was born.

Meeting recap: March 12, 2013

It’s very late after a very long meeting, so I’ll expand this post later tomorrow or Thursday when I have some time. In short:

  • Congrats to the 28 National Board Certified teachers honored tonight! SFUSD now has 231 NBCTs — the highest, on a per capita basis, in the state. This is a very rigorous certification to achieve and I couldn’t be more proud of our teacher corps for showing this incredible dedication to their profession.
  • The resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Haney and now Supervisor Yee requesting the Superintendent to create and forward a local hire policy to the Board for approval passed 6-0 (Murase absent). “Local hire” means changing the district’s contracting procedures (within legal limits) to prioritize the hiring of San Francisco residents on facilities bond construction projects; the city passed its own local hire ordinance in 2010 requiring city-sponsored construction projects to eventually employ 50 percent local residents. The “invitation to a policy” we passed tonight also contains provisions asking the district to take steps to increase opportunities for women and people of color in the construction trades, again within legal limits. It represents the aspirations of the Board to go in a direction that would channel the economic power of our bond dollars for the good of San Franciscans, and provide more career opportunities for our students. The final policy will represent some trade-offs –administering and monitoring a local hire program will increase costs  and may decrease competition in our bidding process (though so far that has not been the City’s experience). In order for such a policy to meet its goals and still be workable from a construction management perspective, there will need to be “off-ramps” or “safety valves” allowing contractors who can’t meet the local hire requirement to find some other way of contributing to the goals of the policy. So there are a lot of outstanding questions and a lot of work remaining, but the aspirations of the resolution are good, and worthwhile to take on. Stay tuned for further developments. 
  • We heard an update on the Lau Action Plan and saw some examples of the increased amount of data the district is receiving from the longitudinal study of our English Learner (EL) outcomes being conducted by Stanford University. Some of the data is very sobering (our Chinese-language-speaking ELs are becoming English-proficient much faster than our Spanish-language-speaking ELs; biliteracy pathways [also called bilingual programs] seem to be doing a slightly better job getting ELs to English proficiency than dual-language immersion programs. The good news, though, is that now we finally have a store of data that will help us analyze the effectiveness of our programs and continually question our assumptions so that we continue to make the best decisions for EL students, as required by the Lau v. Nichols court settlement we operate under.
  • Staff also updated the Board on the draft Coordinated Early Intervention Services (CEIS) plan submitted to the state last week — required because we have been found to be “significantly disproportionate” in our identification of African-American students for special education. The fact that African-American students in San Francisco and many other places are disproportionately identified for special education isn’t really a surprise to anyone, but now that the finding is “official” from the state, the district must take specific measures; the CEIS plan — listing our findings on the root causes of disproportionality and steps we will take to decrease it –is the first step. Once the draft plan is approved by the state the district will be required to use 15 percent of our IDEA appropriation to fund the plan, which is restrictive but given the depth of the problem, probably justified.

News roundup – Oct. 2-9, 2011

Some very interesting education-related news this week:

There were also some great blog posts/news articles about how the late Steve Jobs created technology that has really benefited children with disabilities, particularly the iPad.  This one, by Tim Carmody in Wired, is the best. 

Finally, hot off the presses, Governor Brown came through and signed SB 946 (Steinberg), which introduces a limited mandate for health insurers to pay for autism treatment — at least until the Federal health care bill is fully implemented in 2014. This is great for families who have been struggling to pay for autism treatment, or fighting with their insurance companies because autism treatment should already have been covered by California health insurance policies under AB 88, the state’s mental health parity law. It’s a big step forward and should provide the state budget with some relief, because schools and regional centers will no longer be the payers of last resort for autism treatment.

Video fun

Two fun videos to share:

The video above shows the work of  students in our CAT program (transition for students with disabilities ages 18-22) who participated in a stop-motion animation class sponsored by  the City’s Recreation & Parks Department.

Click here to see SFUSD students featured on ABC-7 News tonight — the clip is about “Everything Goes,” a performance of the SF Arts Ed Players (full disclosure: my children are part of the Players this year).  You probably know SF Arts Ed for the artists-in-residence it provides to San Francisco public schools during the school year, and the Players are part of another amazing program where students learn dance, singing and acting skills and perform in a professionally-staged production.

Saturday and Sunday, the Players will be performing in a revue of Cole Porter songs — they have worked incredibly hard since September, with hours of rehearsals each week, and the hard work shows!  Shows are 2:00 p.m. both days at the Eureka Theater (215 Jackson St., SF) — Tickets can be purchased online through City Box Office.

Welcome back . . . to the budget

After a restful Thanksgiving break (hopefully you had a restful break as well!), tonight I attended part of the Budget committee meeting to hear an overview of the Special Education budget. The basic facts – which I pretty much knew going in – are these:

  • Annual expenditures ($100 million this year, excluding transportation and legal fees) have gone up several million dollars each of the past few years, even though special education enrollment has remained basically flat. Some of this increase might be attributable to built-in increases in the teacher/paraprofessional salary scale, and/or the rapid increase in more severe disabilities — e.g., autism and emotional disturbance.
  • The Federal stimulus funding we received for special education ($6.5 million in each of the past two fiscal years) has been used to fund existing programs rather than one-time uses — which means, once this funding dries up at the end of this year, that we have a $6.5 million hole in the special education budget for next year.
  • It’s not going to be possible to plug that $6.5 million hole simply with cuts, so, look for the $35 million contribution from the general fund towards special education spending to grow larger.

Cecelia Dodge, our new Assistant Superintendent in charge of special education (she started with the school district in early August) said she believes that the amount of money we are currently spending on special education is enough for a well-conceived program; she added that she is looking to cut back on non-public school tuitions (around $14 million last year) and transportation (an astounding $17 million annually).  This would free up money for desperately-needed professional development.

There was a fair amount of discussion about how special education is funded, both by the Federal and state governments and by our central office. To review:

  • Under IDEA, the Federal government is supposed to pay an additional cost per student in special education, defined as 40 percent of the average per student expenditure nationally. However, the Feds have never paid their fair share as defined by the law — for example, in fiscal 2008 the Federal obligation under IDEA was $19 billion; only $10 billion was actually allocated to the states.  In our district, the Federal allocation is usuallly about 10 percent of our total budget. However, with the stimulus funding we had in the past two years, that share rose to something closer to 18 percent.
  • State funding is not derived from the actual enrollment of students with disabilities, nor the severity of those disabilities. Instead, it is an additional amount of money allocated per ADA (average daily attendance).  
  • Locally, most special education expenditures – teachers, paraprofessionals, speech therapists, transportation – are budgeted centrally. However, schools are given a very small per student amount in the weighted student formula to spend on materials and professional development for their special education programs. This amount – this year averaging about $40 per student enrolled in special education – is largely symbolic, meant to get school communities thinking about supporting the needs of their students in special education but not really enough to enact significant school-based change.

Finally, about that contribution: it’s my view that some contribution is completely appropriate, since it acknowledges the basic fact that all of our kids are all of our kids – some cost more to educate and others cost less. To strictly account for the cost of educating students with extra needs (where do you draw THAT line?) and demand every penny of that in additional funding from the state and Federal government would mean we viewed students who aren’t strictly average as being burdens. Are they really? If one of your children needs braces or requires an expensive operation, would you consider that child a burden on your family?

The real question is, how large should the contribution be? Is $35 million too much? One of the questions we asked the staff tonight was for some kind of accounting of how much different school districts – particularly ones similar to San Francisco in enrollment and other characteristics – contribute out of their general funds towards special education services.

Finally, we asked for information to be broken down differently so as to be more informative to Board members and the public. In the accounting we were given tonight, the cost of legal settlements were included but not the cost of hiring outside attorneys to negotiate them; non-public school tuition and fees charged by agencies serving our students were included but not broken out. Transportation was also not included. Board members asked for an accounting that would help us better understand what we are spending money on – staff, professional development, transportation, private school tuitions and agency fees, etc.   The committee asked for a return to this topic in two months, which would likely mean the January or possibly February meeting of the Budget committee.