This past October, the school board approved the hiring of a $30K facilitator to govern the district’s special education task force, which the board approved this past summer to address the mounting and unaddressed problems in the district’s special education programs. The district will also pay substitute teachers to cover the class loads of teachers attending the monthly 4+ hour meetings held during the school day. (Parents will not be paid to participate). Another $25K was approved to hire Hanover Research Council to provide research and surveys to support the Special Education Department. These are but a few of the expenses resulting from the delayed reform of special education the San Dieguito school district.
The San Dieguito Special Education task force was created this past summer after a public outcry at an August meeting revealed how district administrators overseeing special education had failed to address the continuing problems raised during the district’s volunteer special education forum committee the year before. Mark Miller, the district’s associate superintendent in charge of special education since July 2016, was not at the August public meeting, but has stated he attended several of the the special education forum committee meetings during the 2016-17 school year. It is unclear why no action was taken during the 2016-2017 year to address the concerns raised at those meetings, but the new task force with its $30K facilitator is scheduled to meet during the 2017-2018 to finally address the ongoing problems. These meetings are open to the public and attendees may present public comments about special education topics. (The next meeting is scheduled for November 28, 2017). For meeting schedule and updates, visit: http://www.sduhsd.net/subsites/SDUHSD-Special-Education-Task-Force/
Further investigation has also revealed that the district has not implemented the vast majority of the recommendations its hired adult transition expert recommended this past February. After numerous complaints about the district's adult transition program, the district hired Dr. Gary Greene to evaluate the program. After he reviewed the program, he agreed that the district needed to take numerous steps to improve and update its adult transition program for its students with disabilities. Specific improvements Dr. Greene recommended included:
• the creation of a common set of core principles and roadmap to the future of the program,
• professional training of the transition staff “specifically aimed at promoting program improvement,”
• adoption of new curriculum, new and different transition assessment instruments and methods,
• expansion of opportunities for students to participate in vocational opportunities (including those with more moderate-severe disabilities),
• creation of a parent advisory committee,
• weekly and monthly meetings of staff to work on goals and overall strategic planning to improve program, and
• better data collection procedures to determine the outcomes of the program.
But those were recommended back in February and it is now November.
During this past year, the district also came under considerable scrutiny and criticism when it built an approximately $1 million transition facility for its special needs students that could not physically fit the students scheduled to attend there. The district was also notified by a state organization, Disability Rights of California, that the transition facility likely violated state and federal laws pertaining to civil rights of students with disabilities and the CA Education Code. Despite these costly missteps, both administrators in charge continue to be employed by the district in administrative positions.
The special education forum committee, the precursor of the task force, was created in July of 2016 because numerous parents had appeared before the board over the last two years highlighting an extensive list of concerns that included the following:
1. the lack of curriculum and textbooks in special education tracks (even though the district’s LCAP states all students have textbooks).;
2. the lack of strong workability programs and the failure to provide the array of services required by the state, even though the State of California passed the Employment First Act making employment the highest priority for students with disabilities;
3. the lack of assistive technology interventions and plans to empower our students despite the federal Assistive Technology Act, and
4. the lack of accessible or adapted career pathways, ROP, CTE or vocational courses for students with intellectual disabilities, again, despite California having recognized employment as the highest priority for students with disabilities.
Parents also raised how placement of students with intellectual disabilities into segregated educational tracks at La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines violated the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, which provides that special education should be provided in the least restrictive environment. Parents also complained how when they were allowed to participate in a general education class, they were still segregated within even that setting, usually clustered among themselves with an aide away from their non-disabled peers. [Note: The state’s special education task force similarly found that segregated classes was an antiquated and overly used instructional approach in its 2015 “One System: Reforming Education to Serve ALL Students” report ("Special education too often becomes a place students go, rather than a set of supports to help students succeed," p. 4). The report further noted that the achievement levels of students with disabilities in California are "among the lowest in all 50 states," (p. 4).]
Currently, students with intellectual disabilities are placed in special education “tracks” called TAP or FLS (functional living skills), and do not have courses to choose from like other students, which also raises issues of equality and access to equal benefits under various federal laws. Parents have asked that they and their students have the ability to pick courses designed to meet their students’ needs just like other families, but so far, that is not a option because the district does not have functional or adapted vocational courses for students with intellectual disabilities. Parents submitted a 50 page petition to the Board in June of 2017 outlining many of the issues in writing including how the district provides ample course selections for advanced and other students, but no meaningful course selections for our intellectually disabled students.
Administrators often raise concerns about how much special education costs, but from recent history, it seems clear that many of the costs recently incurred could have been avoided had they only listened to the free help and insights provided by parents and students over the last couple of years. Will the San Dieguito administrators finally listen now that money has been committed and the board is more enlightened? Let’s hope that the district’s financial commitment finally leads to administrative commitment to making our special education programs and services “consumer-responsive.” Reform is long overdue and inaction is getting more expensive by the minute.
1. Board Agenda Packet 10/12/17 (Board Agenda Items 14(A)(3) and 18).
2. “Adult Transition Program Review,” SDUHSD, by Gary Greene, February 2017.
3. Employment First Act: https://scdd.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2016/10/Employment-First-Policy-Summary-SCDD-CECY.pdf
4. “Consumer responsive” defined 29 U.S.C. section 3002.
5. Assistive Technology Act of 2004 requires states to increase the ability of individuals with disabilities to secure and maintain possession of AT devices to help with daily living, education and work. 29 USC section 3001. Special education. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/3001
6. Information on Least Restrictive Environment by the Disability Rights of CA organization: http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/504001Ch07.pdf