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District forms special education council

District forms special education council
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ADVOCATE—Cindy Liu, one of the founders of Thrive Conejo, gives her views on the state of special education in Conejo Valley Unified during the March 6 school board meeting. DAWN MEGLI-THUNA/Acorn Newspapers

ADVOCATE—Cindy Liu, one of the founders of Thrive Conejo, gives her views on the state of special education in Conejo Valley Unified during the March 6 school board meeting. DAWN MEGLI-THUNA/Acorn Newspapers

Conejo Valley Unified is forming a special education advisory council to discuss ways to improve services for children who learn differently than most.

Lisa Miller, CVUSD’s director of special education, shared the news at the March 6 school board meeting.

The announcement comes after months of lobbying by a parent group calling itself Thrive Conejo. Members have expressed frustration with CVUSD’s current approach to special ed, which they said sometimes involves concentrating students into specialized programs on specific campuses according to their disability.

When it forms later this spring, the Special Education District Area Council will advise the school board and district officials on matters related to special ed.

The purpose of SEDAC, Miller said, will be to include the voice of parents and community members in district discussions and build productive relationships between staff and parents to ensure the effective delivery of special education services.

“We think they are essential partners,” she said.

Around 2,000, or 11 percent, of CVUSD’s roughly 18,500 students are eligible for special education, Miller said.

The advisory body will be made up of one parent with a child in special education and one teacher from each school site along with district staff.

Lee Ann Holland and Cindy Liu, who started Thrive Conejo online in October, are raising kids with disabilities. They were invited to make a presentation at the March 6 meeting.

While parents have a say in where their child attends, they said, students with autism spectrum disorders are often funneled to Ladera and Maple elementary schools, students with emotional disturbances are channeled to Glenwood Elementary and children with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities attend Acacia, Aspen and Madroña. (CVUSD offers some level of special education services—like speech therapy, counseling and extra help with math and reading—at all its campuses but most do not have self-contained classrooms to accommodate special needs.)

“Things like school choice that other families get to experience, we don’t experience,” Liu said. “The big selling point of moving to the Conejo is you can live anywhere in any beautiful house you want to and go to any school you want. Not so much for our families.”

Liu said special education should be a range of services to support students, not a place. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that ensures students with disabilities have the same opportunity to learn as those who are not disabled, special education students should have the chance to be educated with their nondisabled peers, even if that student requires extra support.

CVUSD’s current segregated approach is letting some kids fall through the cracks, Liu said.

The California School Dashboard shows the majority of students with disabilities in CVUSD are not hitting minimum benchmarks for improvement in English language arts and math. They also have a high suspension rate.

“By that measure of a report card, we’re failing our students in special ed,” she said.

At the same time, more than 90 percent of students with disabilities graduate.

Holland told trustees the answer was inclusive education based on a universal design for learning that accommodates students with a range of learning differences in the same environment. She said small modifications can tailor an assignment to meet the needs of a disabled student and a gifted student within the same classroom setting.

“You need to stop thinking of special education as separate from general education,” she said. “Inclusion is the solution.”

Miller said students who qualify for special education services of some sort attend every school site in the district. She said letting those students participate with non-disabled peers in an inclusive setting enhances everyone’s positive emotions.

“I think it’s important to know that they are with all of us in our community,” Miller said. “One thing all kids have in common is feelings. It doesn’t matter what disabling condition they might have.”

The district is expected to issue a notice to participate in the Special Education District Area Council next week. Miller said she plans to hold an informational meeting sometime in April.

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