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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/15/22

Exterminating Special Education

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"I knocked on doors and met with district officials and made sure that my daughter's needs were on their radars; they became very familiar with my name, my face, and, most importantly, my voice." - Vicky Maronyan

The LAUSD is a huge bureaucracy where the needs of an individual student are often lost. This is especially true if the child has special educational needs and requires an individualized plan to meet their full potential. These plans perplex the Beaudry Bureaucrats who prefer standardization and despise anything that will add costs to the budget.

Vicky Maronyan is a tenacious parent who has fought the system on behalf of her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, for every victory that she achieves on behalf of her child a new obstacle is put in her way. The following is her story in her own words:

Vicky Maronyan
Vicky Maronyan
(Image by Vicky Maronyan)
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I was asked to start at the beginning, but that's a long story. There is much to say about the inexcusable changes occurring to Special Education in LAUSD. A lot of parents of children with special needs in the LAUSD education system have similar stories. They are filled with disappointments and the feeling that the district does not care about your child.

With the ambitious plan put in place by the new Superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, the feeling that students with Special Needs are at most, an afterthought, is now a reality for many parents. I am one of those parents.

My child has been in the Autism Core program since the third grade. The challenges in previous years of mixed special education classes that finally brought us to Aut Core were bad. Autism Core has been a bright light in the dark and confusing wormhole of Special Education. With the relief of finding the right fit in Aut Core for my child, and watching her and her classmates alike thrive, there was always an underlying feeling of insecurity. Why? Here's why.

After the 2019 strike, SpEd teachers learned the cap on student count was raised. While this meant larger class sizes, no additional support was provided. This allowed for class closures when the "norm numbers" were not met. Sure enough, in 2019 my daughter's 6th-grade class was shut down and the students were herded into another class. They lumped all of the students together; 6th, 7th, and 8th grades all in one classroom. The teacher was overwhelmed and the students' anxiety caused by this abrupt change resulted in several meltdowns every day. There was no education for them, just getting through each day. This is when my advocacy started at full speed.

I had no time for learning about the politics of LAUSD so I consumed as much as I could about their procedures and administrative roles while trying to get things restored. I knocked on doors and met with district officials and made sure that my daughter's needs were on their radars; they became very familiar with my name, my face, and, most importantly, my voice. Little did I know how much I would need this familiarity in the future.

My persuasiveness paid off and the 6th-grade class was reinstated. Unfortunately, the victory would be short-lived as the pandemic hit and we went online. The following school year we lost our beloved 6th-grade teacher. He was a good fit for Aut Core, his ABA experience and teaching ability were invaluable. I still miss him and his great impact on the education of the students.

So here we are today. My daughter finished middle school only to learn just three months prior to our transition IEP, that the Aut Core class we thought our child and her classmates were going to is set to close. In its place, the district is pushing for widespread inclusion for all Special Education students regardless of their level of function, ability, or tolerance for the program. Everything that made special education special is being extinguished at the expense of our children.

Many of us with experience in special education knew inclusion has been talked about for a long time but this is an escalation of implementation many students were not prepared for, and to be honest, there will always be a portion of special-needs students for whom this is the wrong fit.

I will be very clear in saying I AM NOT AGAINST INCLUSION. It is important to have integrity and be mindful of all special-needs individuals. What parent of a child with special needs wouldn't love to see their child be able to participate in a general education class? I'm not fighting against inclusion. I'm fighting for the proper preparation, and for safeguarding the students who can't learn in an inclusive environment. There is a difference and it is important for the administrators to recognize this and ensure the accommodations for ALL students with special needs are met.

The plan set in full force motion pushing Inclusion FOR ALL is oversimplified and thoughtless. It does not meet the needs of the students it claims to benefit. This plan is closing much-needed programs for special-needs students and forcing them into an environment with little or no support. It's a recipe for disaster to which I am not willing to subject my daughter or any other child who is not able. This is wrong and as much as I would like to prove my point I will not use our children to do so, although it certainly seems like the district has no qualms in what they are doing to them.

I am a mother with a disabling health condition and the stress this is causing is harsh but my suffering takes last place when it comes to the children. I refuse to let them be disregarded in such a careless plan put forth by LAUSD.

Since late March I have made countless attempts to convey this to the LAUSD Special Education Coordinator, LRE specialists, Administrator of Instruction, Local LDNW Superintendent, as well as local board members. I have sent emails and received little or no response. I've had conversations regarding parents' concerns and the frightening position we have been given and been told they will follow up with us but they have yet to do anything, I'm still waiting for responses. I have asked for and proposed solutions and the district has flat-out rejected them.

I was fortunate to arrange a meeting with Board Member Schmerelson. He took the time to hear us parents and he was very receptive to my solution but the LAUSD Special Education Coordinator who was part of this meeting kept shutting down his responses of understanding.

Why is the district opposed to a solution that meets the students' needs and costs them nothing? I find it deeply troublesome that the so-called district plan put in place takes priority over the true needs of these children.

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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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