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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/2/22

Erica Vilardi-Espinosa: Special Education Should Be Individualized And Celebrated

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This is the third in a series on serving students with severe special education needs. Please read the first part for an introduction to the issue.

Erica Vilardi-Espinosa
Erica Vilardi-Espinosa
(Image by Erica Vilardi-Espinosa)
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"Special education goes beyond what you learn, it is a hands-on profession and requires people who understand the delicacy of what that means." - Board District 2 Candidate Erica Vilardi-Espinosa

Some people, like current Board District 2 representative Monica Garcia, approach the LAUSD as a stepping stone to a higher political office. Board District 4 incumbentNick Melvoin sees his seat as a way to curry favor with the influential charter school lobby. Erica Vilardi-Espinosa's website says she is approaching her candidacy as the next step of her service to the community.

Vilardi-Espinosa is a mother of two and has served as a volunteer at the schools her children have attended, including as the Treasurer of the PTO at Franklin Avenue Elementary School. She started a Girl Scout Troop and served as a Co-Service Unit Manager in the organization. She currently chairs the Budget & Finance and Education Committees of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council.

As a board member, Vilardi-Espinosa would not only support a full range of services for children with special education needs, she would provide more funding and staff "to support parents and help them understand their options and help guide them through the process." She commits to keeping the option of special education centers available to parents and supports having magnet programs on these campuses for students who are interested in pursuing careers in special education.

Vilardi-Espinosa's complete responses are as follows:

  • While inclusion and mainstreaming have benefitted many children with special education needs, these programs are not suitable for all children. For many children, Special Education Centers provide the best option for helping them reach their full potential. Do you commit to keeping these schools fully funded and the option of attending made available to parents during the IEP process?

Yes, Parents with a Special Education needs student should be offered all options that will allow their student to thrive. Special Education centers provide a solution for students who cannot thrive in the traditional school setting even with an IEP, dedicated aid, and peer interaction.

  • To ensure that children enrolled in Special Education Centers have exposure to their typical peers, do you commit to ensuring that magnet programs are included on these campuses? These magnets would serve children who are interested in pursuing careers in special education.

The magnet program in special education centers can ensure the option for those interested in special education careers can learn practical skills in their daily life. Special education goes beyond what you learn, it is a hands-on profession and requires people who understand the delicacy of what that means. Every student is different as is every person who wants to educate. Magnet programs that expose students to learning about this profession with experience involving peers can increase understanding, empathy and create new ways of communication. Keeping magnet schools on special education center campuses can be a great option for those interested in enrolling.

  • How would you support programs like Peer Buddies that find innovative ways to ensure that children with severe special education needs are integrated with their general education classmates even if they are pursuing an alternative curriculum.

The Peer buddies in Community based instruction is a good way of helping a special needs student have peer advocates and can help create broader learning instruction for those in need of an alternative format. When the learning environment works for all the students in a peer buddies format it is a great way for special education students to have real-life instruction and experience. This format does require more staff and training to make it work. For a school to be able to support community-based instruction with peer buddies, there needs to be dedicated funds to help make sure there is adequate staff with the correct qualifications.

  • Do you commit to ensuring that all members of the staff at the Division of Special Education support children with moderate to severe special education needs and prohibit them from stigmatizing special day classes and special education centers?

No child should be stigmatized, no matter what. We know every child learns differently and has different talents, no matter the test score or if they are a special needs student. All learning environments and formats designed to help the learning needs of any student should be celebrated and acceptable.

  • Do you commit to removing any targets limiting the number of children enrolled in special day classes?

There should not be limits to the number of students in special day classes if the teacher ratio is met, and the students are thriving. There should be enough funding granted to support the staff needed for all students in need of special day classes at the school in their area. The LAUSD needs to accommodate the needs of its students, not have the student fit into their format

My further thoughts on special needs students:
The LAUSD should be dedicated to providing the best individualized education a special needs student can have. While I know in a school district with so many different students this is no small task. However, so often parents do not know what to do or how to find help when their child needs an IEP or more assistance. More funding and staff is needed to support parents and help them understand their options and help guide them through the process. There is no one size fits all solution to these needs. In the business of education, the hard work of individualized attention needs to be given to each student, no matter what.

Up Next: Raquel Zamora"

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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