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Providing Special Education is Not Optional

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"If we have enough students enroll to make these [special day program] classes viable, NVMI will certainly offer them."
- North Valley Military Institute

Mark Ryan, the North Valley Military Institute's (NVMI) "Superintendent," is the Ralph Kramden of charter school operators, bouncing between schemes to keep the failing school afloat. Earlier this year he was floating a grand plan to move the school to the flood control basin in the Sepulveda Pass, claiming that all he needed was an executive order from the President of the United States to make it happen. He even traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for the plan, even though he previously claimed to already have the support of the area's entire congressional delegation.

Apparently, Mr. Ryan's trip to Washington was a sobering experience as his tune has changed considerably. Instead of just needing an executive order to be issued, Ryan has now conceded that converting the school from a charter to a Department of Defense Education Academy will be "a lengthy process involving the need for Congress to pass at least two different laws and the President of the US to sign them." Instead of being ready to move forward in the next school year, the plan "will take one or more years to occur."


(Image by North Valley Military Institute)   Details   DMCA

With the school hemorrhaging cash due to transportation costs, Ryan has presented another plan to the school community. In this latest scheme, NVMI will abandon the Valley Oaks Center For Enriched Studies (VOCES) campus that it hijacked using PROP-39 and move the students to the campus of Los Angeles Mission College. The school may also close down its middle school operations or move to a private site, freeing Mount Gleason Middle School of its co-location troubles.

While Ryan is presenting his plan as one that will take place for the next school year, it seems unlikely that he will be able to get the proper approvals in time to make the move. The school is currently authorized by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) and the changes being requested are more than routine and should require a material revision. To pass such a revision, the County must follow a formal procedure and cannot just rubber-stamp the change.

The first issue that must be addressed is the fact that the two campuses are 7.4 miles and 17 minutes apart by car. For students who need to travel by bus, the travel time increases to at least 48 minutes. The county must investigate if this change will negatively affect the ability of the school to continue its operations. NVMI recognizes that the move may result in a decrease in enrollment and they are warning that they may need to lay off teachers.

Ryan's proposal also makes significant changes to the school's operations with students expected to enroll in college-level classes. This is a major shift in policy and the County needs to study its viability. This is especially true since the charter has positioned itself as a school that serves troubled students needing military-like discipline. NVMI has also admitted in the past that its student body is transitional, with students enrolling and leaving frequently. Would these students benefit from enrolling in college concurrently with high school or will this new program dissuade the targeted students from enrolling?

Most concerning is how the proposed changes will affect the Special Education community that NVMI serves. According to the school, 20.6% of its current student body has disabilities, but parents are being told that the IEP (Individual Education Plan), a legally binding contract that details the services each student receives, will only apply "to the high school courses your child is enrolled in" and that the "NVMI Special Education staff will [only] provide supports for all IEP and 504 students outside the college classes". This would seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law when it comes to providing Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) if the college classes are being provided as part of a high school program.

Additionally, NVMI is not committing to provide special day classes when the change is made. Instead, they say they will continue to do so "if they have enough students enroll to make these classes viable." This violates their obligation to serve all students, regardless of need. Federal special education funding is provided based on their total enrollment, not according to the number of children with special education needs. The school is already being provided the funding for these classes, therefore, they need to make them available.

The potential violations of the law regarding Special Education should be looked at very closely by the charter authorizers at LACOE. In fact, the statements that have been made should be investigated as an attempt to dissuade children with Special Education needs from continuing to attend NVMI.

The County has ignored the academic and operational failures of this school, let alleged acts of "abhorrent child sex abuse" go unpunished, and failed to provide accountability for multiple violations of the Ed Code. Will they finally step up and conduct a full investigation before approving this latest revision?


Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs. 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 visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. 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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