This is the fifth in a series on serving students with severe special education needs. Please read the first part for an introduction to the issue.
"I think having a one-size-fits-all solution is not appropriate and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." - Board District 2 Candidate Miho Murai
In 2016, Miho Murai registered with the Los Angeles City Clerk to appear on the ballot against Monica Garcia in the LAUSD Board District 2 race. After coming up slightly short on the number of signatures needed for the nominating petition, her candidacy came to an unexpected end. Five years later, she is back for a second try.
Murai approaches this race from the viewpoint of an "advocate for children with special needs". Per her detailed response printed below, Murai serves with a number of organizations including the LAUSD Community Advisory Committee (CAC). Professionally, she is a lawyer specializing in educational law representing parents who dispute recommendations made during their children's IEPs.
Not surprisingly, Murai's responses to the questions that I presented were more thorough than any of the other candidates. As a parent of two daughters who are about to age out of the LAUSD system, I especially appreciated her mention of transition plans and the fact that these need to be individualized to meet the needs of the student after they leave high school.
Like two of her competitors, Erica Vilardi-Espinosa and Raquel Zamora, Murai "wholeheartedly [commits] to keeping Special Education Centers fully funded and available to children with special needs." She also states that including magnet programs in these centers "is an excellent way to ensure that children with special needs are able to interact with typical peers."
Almost 16% of the LAUSD's students are enrolled in special education programs. The issues brought up in these questions affect a considerable number of families and it is unfortunate that only four of the 16 candidates seeking seats on the school board were willing to respond. If any other candidates send in their answers, I will add them to the series.
As a former LAUSD bilingual (Spanish/English) elementary school teacher in South LA and a special education attorney for the last 14 years, I believe that all children should have access to quality education in the least restrictive environment based upon each child's unique needs and circumstances. I have been a passionate advocate for children with special needs through my pro bono/low bono law firm for the past 13 years, as a Community Member and Parliamentarian/Historian of the Community Advisory Committee (whose responsibility is to advise the Board of Education, Superintendent of LAUSD, the Chief of Special Education, Equity and Access and the Director of the SELPA regarding the development, amendment, and review of the local SELPA plan), and as a public commenter at LAUSD's Special Education Committee and LAUSD Board Meetings. I am also very active in the Southern California Special Education Task Force and I am the current Treasurer and Membership Coordinator for the California Association for Parent-Child Advocacy, a statewide volunteer organization that monitors, analyzes, and responds to both legislative and policy initiatives which would affect the education and lifelong prospects for students with disabilities in California. Finally, I am the elected At Large Representative for the Historic Cultural North Neighborhood Council and I serve as Chair of the Schools and Libraries Committee.
While I think it is very important for children who have severe special education needs to be able to work alongside their non-disabled peers, I think having a one-size-fits-all solution is not appropriate and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- 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?
I wholeheartedly commit to keeping Special Education Centers fully funded and available to children with special needs. The IDEA requires that the IEP team offer a continuum of placement options during the IEP meeting - the Special Education Center is appropriate for many of our students who require more intensive services and programs. Proactive steps should be taken to ensure that these Centers remain open and fully funded as these are our most vulnerable children and the District should cut costs elsewhere, such as eliminating the need for campus police.
- 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.
I think including magnet programs in Special Education Centers is an excellent way to ensure that children with special needs are able to interact with typical peers. When we integrate and not segregate, all of the parties involved benefit greatly. We should embrace differences and focus on each student's strengths. When children with different abilities are able to interact with each other, it strengthens compassion, empathy, patience, and tolerance, which are all qualities that we as educators should aim to instill in our children.
- 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.
I think programs such as Peer Buddies should be a requirement for students that are placed in a special day class on a general education campus and that proactive steps should be taken to ensure that students that are placed at a non-public school also can have meaningful interaction with typical peers, perhaps through intramural sports and activities. The IDEA requires that students with disabilities are placed in the least restrictive environment and that they have the opportunity to have meaningful interaction with typical peers. Even if a student is on the alternative curriculum, that student can still benefit from working alongside a typical peer, and that typical peer can still benefit from learning from the student with a disability.
- 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?
Absolutely. I am a very passionate and outspoken advocate at the Community Advisory Committee meetings and intend to continue my advocacy if elected as a school board member. It is essential that not only do we provide students with disabilities the services and supports to be successful academically, socially, and emotionally, but we also prepare them for life after high school. While each student should have an individualized transition plan (ITP), unfortunately, many of these ITPs are not tailored to the child's specific needs. I promise that if elected I will take proactive steps to ensure that the "individual" is emphasized in each student's IEP and that any efforts to create a one-size-fits-all solution will be adamantly opposed.
- Do you commit to removing any targets limiting the number of children enrolled in special day classes?
Absolutely. This is a clear violation of the IDEA and legal action can be taken if there is an attempt to do this.
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 www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.