"They are plowing through special programs regardless of anything parents have to say."
- LAUSD Parent Vicky Maronyan
At the first LAUSD Special Education Committee meeting of the new school year, the Division of Special Education presented a "Back to School Update." As the Beaudry Bureaucrats read directly from their prepared slides it quickly became apparent that "inclusion" was a subject that they wanted to emphasize. Of the nine slides in the presentation, one-third were focused on how the district is "fostering inclusion for all our students."
While providing inclusive environments seems like progress for a school district that spent decades trying to earn its way out of court-ordered supervision for its delivery of special education services, experience has shown that inclusion is often enacted through forced mainstreaming. Instead of bringing "typical" students into a special education environment, those with disabilities are forced to attempt to acclimate to general education classrooms, even when it is completely inappropriate.
While pretending to have a goal of ending "segregation", the LAUSD has limited access to specialized environments where students were thriving and had programs in place to help them meet their full potential. Special Education Centers have long been on the district's chopping block and parents found out late into the last school year that the Aut-Core program would not be available as their children transitioned from middle to high school. The result has been students who feel even more isolated in their "inclusive" classroom, especially when promised supports fail to materialize.
When provided the opportunity to ask the bureaucrats about their presentation I addressed the concerns that many parents whose children are enrolled in special education, especially those with moderate to severe needs, have:
I think that it is great that we are increasing opportunities for inclusion but I want to know what are we doing to protect specialized environments that are working for parents and students. I am thinking specifically about Aut-Core.
The district's response was that "the placement continues to be an IEP decision and it is based on the individual student's needs." What was not explained is how IEP teams are supposed to choose enrollment in these programs if they have been dismantled. If there is "definitely still a need for special day programs or other classes that are more restrictive for our students" why are they being eliminated at school sites? When an IEP team agrees that placement in these types of classes is appropriate, parents should not be made to hunt for available spaces or be forced to enroll in schools outside their neighborhoods.
When I played the district's response for Vicky Moronyan, the parent who initially made me aware of the Aut-Core closures, she told me that it was in line with what she has been told in fighting for an appropriate placement for her daughter:
They always say it's IEP. This is how they keep special education students' families isolated and confused. The IEP recommendations in many cases are not being met and I've seen students slipping through the cracks. This response is a cover for what is really going on with special programs such as Aut Core and it's wrong.
This is not surprising considering how little the need for these programs is understood by the bureaucrats who are supposed to be experts in providing a special education. When Moronyan shared concerns about inclusion not being right for all students with special education needs, she was asked what could be done to make inclusion better. It was like they were "not even listening to what we're saying," she says.
This interaction and the answer that I was given during the Special Education Committee meeting provide perfect examples of why there is so little trust between parents and the district. The boilerplate language provided at every IEP meeting says that the final document is supposed to be the result of a team effort. Unfortunately, this effort is compromised when parents do not feel that the district really cares about the needs of their most vulnerable students. A team effort can only occur when everyone's needs are being heard and all sides are being completely honest.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He was elected to the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and is 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 visitwww.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.