Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can SF's public middle schools work for a special ed kid?

Hi, my name is Joseph. I live with my partner and our two children, Ben and Ron, in the center of the city. Our two kids go to a public elementary school. Ben is in fifth and Ron is in third. We are now embarking on a search to find a middle school for Ben. We are doing so with a great amount of trepidation for one main reason: Ben is in special ed. He tends to lose focus and also tends to "process" things slower than other kids. He is in what is known as the "inclusion" program at his school. Under the "inclusion" program, he is in gen ed classes, but gets extra support. The road in the public schools so far has been a rocky one so far. Let me explain.

We thought we were well-educated parents who knew how to advocate for our kid, but nothing prepared us for the complex and byzantine system that SFUSD's special education programs present. We've learned some hard lessons in the process -- and I'm sorry to say usually well after when it would have really helped Ben. The elementaries in the city that all offer special ed programs are the same "on paper" -- but in reality they could not be more different. Some have principals who care about special ed and are engaged in helping special ed kids. Some view special ed, frankly, as a drag on their quest for higher test scores. Some have well-trained, active special ed teachers who go the extra mile to help the special ed kids; some have poorly trained ones who are simply going through the motions. And the greatest frustration is that staff turnover can change a school's special ed program literally over a summer. We know these things only because our original elementary simply wasn't working for Ben. We struggled to make things work there before finally realizing that the school was just not good for special ed kids. We then went through a crazy process of trying to move him to a new elementary. We are now at a school where the principal emphasizes special ed and where the special ed professionals are all well-trained and proactive. Ben is happier than he has ever been and is making great progress. But now we have to find him a middle school that will work for him.

The way SFUSD's special ed is currently set up, Ben's "inclusion" program is only available at a few middle schools -- mostly all large ones. Our worry is whether Ben is going to be able to navigate a large middle school. And the anecdotes we hear from others parents are not good. So we are going to look at the public middle schools that have inclusion, but we are also going to look at charter K through 8's. And we have not foreclosed moving out of the city if that's what it takes, although we are both pretty committed to staying here.

24 comments:

  1. What is Ben's diagnosis if I may ask? I am in the same boat and have been trying to do research.

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  2. Just wanted to wish special ed parents good luck. Not in that boat ourselves, but friends who have been say it's extremely challenging to get what you need from the resource-strapped public schools, regardless of what the law says special ed kids are entitled to receive.

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  3. I too have heard many stories of difficulty in navigating this system. I'm sorry. It is a true injustice. I hope the recommendations of the recent sped audit are heeded, swiftly and with focused energy.

    Re specifics for middle school. Caveat, I do not have direct experience with special ed. But I can report that at the most recent principal's chat at Aptos, the new principal spoke at length and with passion about his plans for revamping special education, including a push for as much mainstreaming as possible, as well as specific interventions. The conversation about the measures being taken by the school this year went on for well over an hour.

    Maybe....contact him directly about this? Or even better, maybe contact him about arranging a special tour / meeting for prospective special ed parents in order to answer questions? Maybe the PTSA can help with this. Most schools' PTSAs have listserves, often on yahoogroups. You can post something there, and also on the PPS listserve.

    Good luck, and thank you for raising this important question.

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  4. I really question, why would you stay in the city instead of moving to a district where Ben can get the education he needs. Why is anyone trying to prove that public schools work when clearly it doesn't for your child.

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  5. Are other districts better? I have heard horror stories from all over California. I did hear that Marin County was good with special ed students, but I have never gotten any details besides a general buzz about their programs.

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  6. Definitely talk to the principals of Aptos (I was there, too!) and also of Hoover. Both schools are working together to really change how special ed and inclusion students are served (notice I didn't use the dreaded "program" word.)

    Also, talk to families in those schools. One mom I know has a 8th grade autistic son in inclusion and she has told me she feels he is being served very well (he's in my son's class.) I don't know if everyone is having the same positive experience across the board (I doubt it) but was very pleasantly surpised to hear her view on it.

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  7. Thanks for the comments. The news about Aptos is interesting, but Aptos, at least as of now, does not offer an "inclusion" service. I will speak to the principal at Aptos and report back about that school's plans. It is possible that there are changes afoot with the new report about special ed.

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  8. This is for parents with young children who suspect they might need SPED services. My son is hard of hearing which affected his speech development. He was in a SFUSD preschool so he had an IEP and a speech therapist since he was three. It made a huge difference in our school experience. He got services from day one in kindergarten.

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  9. Are you already in touch with Carol Kocivar, SFUSD ombudsperson for special ed?

    (415) 379-7642 X1042

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  10. I know you will hear from the district (and I am actually a district employee--special education) that inclusion is only available at certain schools. HOWEVER, if you are a really vocal parent with good legal counsel you may be able to argue that it is not fair that your child should be excluded from certain schools because of his disability. I know from direct experience that some parents have, after a lot of arguing, made it work for their "inclusion" child at a school which does not have an inclusion program. Sadly, it depends on how much you want to fight. Another angle would be to insist that the district give you a placement offer in your child's IEP this year which names which school he will be placed at. Again, the district will say this can't be done, but I have seen it done, more than once. You could request a smaller school with inclusion, such as Rooftop.

    Best of luck, and remember that you do not have to sign any IEP--you have the right to due process, look at those parent rights you keep getting at every IEP!!

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  11. If you find a principal who is willing to try inclusion, I bet you will be able to get your child included at their school. Contact Rachel Norton because she told parents she will fight for more inclusion.
    Most CA districts are bad at special ed -- when a district gets good at special ed lots of people move there from other counties and the services suffer. Rich districts are usually the worst because they don't want special ed kids bringing down their test scores (and property values).

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  12. Carol Kocivar does not help parents, all she does is make a call to someone else about it. She never follows through to see if the parents were helped or if their problems were solved.

    Also, a warning: Kocivar is a lawyer who has represented SFUSD in court.
    Do not tell her anything you wouldn't want SFUSD's lawyers to know. She should have to disclose to any parent who calls her that she is a lawyer, even if she says she is an ombudsperson.

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  13. Roosevelt. It's small, and they have an inclusion program.

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  14. I are you saying that when Carol Kocivar represented the district in court she was also ombudsperson? That can't be that would be a conflict of interest.

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  15. There are a couple private schools for kids with mild to moderate learning disabilities in SF -- Laurel School is a K-8 in the Richmond, and Sterne is a 6-12 in Pacific Heights (right across from Alta Plaza Park.) Particularly in the middle school years, having your kid in the right setting is really important. I'm not sure how much financial aid is available, but it might be worth taking a look just to know what's out there.

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  16. 8:43, I looked it up.
    It is a big conflict, isn't it?
    Here's one court case I found online:

    http://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/oah/seho_decisions/2006100345.pdf

    "Respondent San Francisco Unified School District (District) was represented by Lenore A. Silverman, Attorney at Law, School and College Legal Services of California. Present for most of the hearing as the District’s designated representative was David Wax, Ph.D., Special Education Services Director of the San Francisco Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). Carol Kocivar, SELPA and District Ombudsperson, was present on various days in Dr. Wax’s absence."

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  17. Have you been in contact with Community Alliance for Special Education (CASE) 415-331-2285

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  18. Same poster at 2:39 a.m., having gone through an IEP, appeal, etc. I highly recommend that you follow the advice of the Special Ed teacher above and get a school (or if two schools would work equally as well, have it read that the student shall attend either X or Y)named in your IEP. Stick to your guns on inclusion and if you need a small school then make sure you get one. Hire a lawyer before you sign the IEP. The district takes your kids placement (sadly) a bit more serious when they know they cannot get away with their usual ineptitude.

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  19. You can also consider having your IEP changed from Inclusion Services to Resource Specialist Services (RSP), which is offered at every K-12 school in the district.

    Donna

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  20. What about Gateway? They're slated to open a MS to 100 incoming 6th-graders next fall.

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  21. You may also want to consider CACS. A frequent poster has an autistic son who attends CACS and seems to be thriving there. They may not have a formal inclusion program, but many of the kids apparently have IEDs for things like ADHD, and you can certainly talk with the administrators on whether they think the school might work for your son.

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  22. It's called IEP, for individualized education plan.

    The CACS campus is not ADA compliant for children with disabilities involving mobility issues, and that is against Federal Law.

    Please use "person first" language, say "son with autism", not "autistic son" ... children are children FIRST, not their disability first.

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  23. About Gateway, they have a slogan: "different kinds of minds"
    but our response, in the special ed community to that is: "but not TOO different."

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