Katy Franklin, mother of a 3rd grade student at Creative Arts Charter School and a board member of SFUSD’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, offers up specific ways the assignment policy should be changed to achieve greater equity for students requiring special needs:
Identify Student Needs First: The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA), requires that Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) containing the child's educational needs must be written before placement decisions are made. Once the IEP is completed, the IEP team then chooses the placement. Unfortunately, IEPs tend to be written to fit into the district’s pre-existing programs, instead of to fit the individual student, and what results from that procedural error is a lot of unnecessary conflict and litigation.
Stop Combining Grade Levels: SFUSD’s practice of combining grade levels in its special education day classes is a major concern of teachers and parents. Mixing Kindergarten students with students through second grade, and third grade students with students through fifth grade is problematic. Safety issues and concerns arise because the children are vastly different in size.
Academically, the differences necessary in the curriculum for each student creates a nightmarish hodgepodge teachers must contend with when attempting classroom lesson planning. It is time for the district administration and the teacher’s union (UESF) to discuss possible changes to how these classrooms are currently configured.
Support Individualized Placement Decisions: Placements of children in special education are supposed to be individualized. There is nothing individualized about putting down a list of seven schools and having a computer run a random lottery to decide where your child goes to school. SFUSD special education administrators take the stance that “programs” are decided in IEP meetings, and that the “placements” made by the Educational Placement Office are not “decisions”, they are “assignments”. Such parsing of words only serves to upset parents, and is definitely not in keeping with the new SFUSD objective to “Create a culture of service and support.”
Parents of children with disabilities would like nothing better than for their children not to need special treatment, but having extra needs also means needing extra assistance, understanding, and accommodations in the schools. Too many complicated factors are at play to rely on special education decisions being made by lottery:
Facility Issues: Schools that are listed as meeting ADA requirements often are not fully accessible in terms of practical day-to-day use of the facilities
• Children should not have to wait for chairs and desks to be moved every time they need to move across a room.
• Children on playgrounds should not have to navigate across entire school grounds to find an accessible restroom.
• Not all ramps are safe for children in walkers or wheelchairs to use.
• Not all schools have Disability Transfer Zones for dropping-off or picking-up children.
• Emergency evacuation chairs at some schools are made for adults and are too big to be safely used to evacuate children.
• Not all schools have nurses; some children in special education require the presence of a nurse on campus.
Location Issues: The preferred location of the school is not always the one closest to home; sometimes it could be the school closest to where the parent or caregiver works.
• Parents of children in special education programs get calls from schools much more often than other parents, and have to contend with many more situations that require their presence at the school sites.
Provide Program Information on School Tours: People giving school tours rarely, if ever, mention anything about their school’s special education programs or accessibility issues, and are also unable to answer specific questions when asked. This is not surprising, there is no reason parent volunteers giving school tours should know all those details, but it does make searching for a school extremely complicated.
Ensure that Parents Can See Special Education Classrooms: Parents are routinely told that they may not view a specific special education classroom, because of supposed “privacy issues”, but how many parents would agree to place a child in a class they were not even allowed to look at?
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What do you think of Franklin's proposed changes? Do you agree or disagree?