"When we say $1.4 billion for special ed and we only have $700 million from the federal government and the other $700 million are coming from every child in this district, I'm not about defunding special ed. I just know that we have a serious issue to how can we serve our own kids? "
Originally, this blog was supposed to be about the LAUSD's misunderstanding of the diverse needs of students who require special education. I had watched a presentation on the Local Control Action Plan (LCAP) that was given during the February school-board meeting and learned that the district is measuring its success by counting the number of students that they can integrate into a mainstream environment. This type of goal ignores the needs of our most vulnerable students who are put at risk by being placed in these inclusive environments and has the resulted in the threat of closure for the district's Special Education Centers. After all, the law does not simply state that students must be placed in the "least restrictive environment"; it conditions this requirement on doing so to the "maximum extent that is appropriate."
Perhaps the thought that this ill-conceived goal was a result of a misunderstanding exposes my tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, at the March board meeting Monica Garcia proved me wrong as she laid bare the motives of the district. In her view, special education is an expensive program and the unfunded mandates by the federal government mean that the costs must be met out of the general fund. To her, inclusion is not something that is done to benefit students receiving a special education. Instead, it is necessary to reduce costs. It is the only way to serve, in her words "our own kids."
Spotlighted in Garcia's speech were "Lanterman and Salvin" for having a per-pupil breakout of "$27,000 a kid and $53,000 a kid, whereas my Hollenbeck Middle School [is] usually $5,000 a kid" (emphasis mine). While all three of these schools are in District 2, Garcia seems to state that she only feels responsibility for Hollenbeck. Do the other schools not count because their students have a more difficult time getting acceptable standardized test scores? Has the District has become so focused on graduating "college-ready" students that it has become acceptable to marginalize populations who include those who will never go on to college?
Yes, meeting special-education needs can be expensive. The Sophia T Salvin Special Education Center that Garcia mentioned includes some of the most fragile students in the district and serving their needs comes with additional costs. However, moving them to general-education schools will not eliminate these costs. It will just make the students less safe and will take away access to a specialized environment that has served them well.
This "us-versus-them" attitude is something that is all too prevalent in this heavily gerrymandered district. Before her defeat in the District 3 election, Tamar Galatzan regularly used Title 1 as the wedge issue to make excuses why schools in the valley were not getting their "fair share" of education dollars. This ignored the challenges of schools with students who received these funds. At that time, I pointed out that this use of scapegoating was being used to cover up the failures of the board. Condemning students who receive special-education services because of the costs involved is just as wrong. These students did not choose to enter life with special challenges. Garcia owes them and their parents an apology and a commitment to complete her remaining term treating all children as "our own kids."
I am a candidate for the District 2 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.