By Aaron Blevins, 3/07/2013
LAUSD pushing for general education for special ed students
Due to federal and state law, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is working toward integrating students in special education to traditional, general education classrooms.
Frances Blend School is among four special education centers to essentially merge with general education schools. The school and Van Ness Avenue Elementary School will merge to become a fully integrated campus by 2015.
The district also plans to reduce the number of students in special education centers by 33 percent by 2015, and eliminate preschool programs at all of the centers, according district documents. To accommodate, LAUSD officials are creating classes for students with moderate to severe disabilities at general education schools.
According to LAUSD officials, the district has 82,765 students in special education, and just 2,190 learn in segregated settings. Currently, the district has no plans to close any of its special education centers.
Frances Blend Principal Dorene Rubin said it’s a misconception that the district is closing the centers. She said the LAUSD is integrating students with their peers to the maximum extent appropriate. At Frances Blend, students have been learning fine arts with students from Van Ness.
Last week, the students were learning to make spheres and little clay creatures. Four or five teachers and aides were in the classroom throughout the class.
“We are enriching the lives of all of our students by doing this,” Rubin said, adding that Frances Blend students need exposure to the world and the community at large, and Van Ness students need to learn about individuals who are “differently-abled.”
“We all have our own gifts, and we all need to learn acceptance and tolerance.”
The push to integrate students with special needs comes from a 1996 court case — the Chanda Smith case — that required the LAUSD to identify and educate special education students in a way that is consistent with state and federal law.
Now referred to as the Modified Consent Decree, the commitment promotes the integration of students with special needs, said Karen Gilman, of the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, which provides early education programs for students with special needs.
“This is going to happen no matter what,” she said, adding the district must respect the individual rights of parents throughout the process.
Gilman has been working with several mothers who fear that the push for integration will adversely impact their children. At the home of Ana Rivera, who lives just north of Koreatown, four of the parents voiced their concerns about the effort, primarily in Spanish.
Rivera said her daughter, who has a rare and unpredictable genetically-occurring disease, can not speak or walk. In December, while in school at the Sophia T. Salvin Special Education Center near Washington Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, her daughter had trouble breathing. The nurses reacted quickly and provided assistance. However, if forced into a general education school, she fears that such quick responses to medical issues will not be prevalent.
“So, I really want to be on a campus that has nurses and all the physical accommodations,” Rivera said through a translator.
Marina Maldonado, another parent who has a child enrolled at Sophia T. Salvin, is worried that the center will close. She said four pre-kindergarten classes were eliminated last year, and the remaining six will be eliminated this year.
“Where are the other kids going to come from if they’re not putting kids in our school? We know that their environment is perfect for them. Perfect in a way that the school was made for them and their needs,” Maldonado said. “The teachers and staff, they know how to handle the kids.”
She fears that the district is underestimating how different her four-year-old son is from the rest of the student body. Maldonado is concerned that other students will bully her son due to those differences.
“That is our main concern — the bullying,” she said. “They won’t get the same kind of attention. …They’re going to end up closing the school, and that is the only school within our community.”
Maldonado said she is also worried that her son, who has an extremely rare disease and can not speak, will not get the same level of services at a general education school. She said she isn’t sure she wants her son in a general education environment.
“[They’re] our kids. We’re the ones who know them best. They’re comfortable where they are,” Maldonado said, adding that if her son is hurt or molested, he won’t be able to tell her.
Another concerned parent, Karina Lopez, who is a member of the district’s English Learner Advisory Committee, said her integrated student was bullied at Malabar Elementary School in East L.A. Afterward, her student said she wanted to die, and Lopez supplied documents of the mental health hospital visit that followed.
“This is what happens when there’s bullying and there’s no intervention and there’s no plan,” she said through a translator.
Victorina Martinez, whose son attends an Amino Charter School and has a severe learning disability, said he didn’t thrive in a regular campus. However, in a charter school with plenty of resources, he is seeing success, she said.
“He was out of his classes more than he was in them,” Martinez said through an interpreter.
Gilman said the LAUSD may be forced to make accommodations that they may not be able to afford for students with disabilities. She said such accommodations can include ramps, nurses and one-on-one sessions.
“They’re talking about moving some classes lock, stock and barrel,” Gilman said, adding that the four concerned parents were “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“They’re trying to raise awareness.”
Sharyn Howell, the executive director of the LAUSD Division of Special Education, said the district continues to establish programs that all students need in general education classes.
“We have been pushing for that for a long time,” she said.
Howell referenced the move to merge four special education center campuses that share a geographic site with a general education school.
“We have been working with the parents, and the staff and the parents at those sites,” she said, adding that the schools have hosted fun events and also pushed for “meaningful” participation in science and physical education. Howell said there is a lot of research that shows that integrating can be helpful for students with special needs. “It’s also good for the general education population.”
She said the district is concerned about the safety of all students, especially those who are most vulnerable. Howell said the district will provide additional anti-bullying training at integrated schools.
“We are not going to put our students in an environment where we do not believe they are safe,” she said, adding that the district will always have a lot of preparation to do in advance of an integrated school adding students with special needs.
Howell said the district will need to ensure that the proper training is in place for administrators and special education aides, and instill a level of understanding in students that all of their peers have strengths.
She said the district does not plan to close special education centers; however, some of the programs could be eliminated through attrition. While the LAUSD has eliminated some preschool programs, others may cease due to population shifts that disallow the district to sustain them, Howell said.
She said the LAUSD has 15 special education centers, and enrollment is low at all of them.
“More parents are actually interested in having their students with disabilities educated at their home school,” Howell said, adding that additional programs — such as charter school programs — could move to special education centers.
She stressed that parents are not required to move to a general education school, but special education centers will not be the “offered placement for students being identified from here on in this district.” Howell said parents can tour traditional classrooms and see if they might be interested in having their student attend. They can contact administrators and the division of special education for information. Parents can also seek legal recourse if they do not agree with the district’s recommendations.
Howell said the LAUSD would ensure that all of the same services are available at general education schools, and that teachers have the proper support.
“There will be support there,” she said. “Everything that a student can get at a special education center, they can get those things elsewhere.”
Chris Arroyo, of Development Disabilities Area Board 10, said the law requires that students are educated as much as possible in traditional classrooms. He said the law also states that the district take the needs of the students into account in whatever they do. Arroyo said that, generally, the district can eliminate programs if students’ needs are met through a different program. He said the key question is whether the LAUSD is conducting Individualized Education Program meetings for all students affected by the programs that were eliminated.
“If people appeal, then what happens?,” Arroyo said. “How do you appeal something if the program is going to be terminated?”