STRANGE DAYS IN EDUCATION
I keep hearing myself tell clients that we’re living in times about which none of us have any experience. When I started in education many years ago, (and even up until the last couple of years), I had never heard of a district that was going into receivership, much less know what that would look like. There had been very few occasions when I’d observed a district frantically grasp for their collective wallet at the beginning of a discussion about the needs of a SPED student. Prior to 2009, can’t remember a time when a district denied SPED services, openly - and without apology - procrastinated completing assessments, or blatantly did anything that was plainly not in accord with IDEA.
For years I assured parents that districts were few and far between (and certainly not in OUR county!) that had real intention to finally wear down a family seeking appropriate services by denying every request and pushing the envelope toward Due Process, with the hopes that the family would finally run out of money and energy. I told parents that our districts were mindful and empathetic to the challenges facing parents of Children with Special Needs. Our districts were eager to find ways to help. I told them that they’d get a fair shake from the Office of Administrative Hearings if we had to file for Due Process.
It’s different now.
CALIFORNIA TEACHERS UNION
Administrators can’t hire the service providers of their choice but are getting union pressure from the California Teachers Association. Part time aides (or trained aides from agencies like Tucci Learning Services) with expertise in particular developmental disabilities (such as ASD) are not in the running because districts have been instructed to seek out full-time, union aides (hired as “district aides”) with minimal experience and even some without any training whatsoever. Districts defend this preference because it is more “cost effective” for districts, but I’ve done the math and this simply it isn’t so. It’s a union thing. Nothing more. Is it “all about the kids”? It is not.
WHO’S ON FIRST???
Parents are discovering (often at the last minute) that the teacher they were told would be their child’s instructor for Fall Semester has been replace.
Veteran instructors have been encouraged to take “Early Retirement” and teachers who are fresh out of the shoot (recent college graduates) are lured from out of state to “Come to the Monterey Peninsula!”. Little do they know (until they start looking for a place to live) that they won’t be able to afford to live locally and that they’ll be picking up an unrealistic load of classes plus extra-curricular responsibility. (Community college and state college instructors are also asked to take a furlough day.)
Administrators who were known for doing a stellar job in county or district positions have been asked to wear multiple challenging hats. Some principals have been asked to oversee three schools at once, spending a day here and a day there.
Instructional time for specialists, like Speech and Language instructors and occupational therapists, is stretched from school
to school. To stay in compliance with a child’s IEP, some are reducing the already skimpy time that scheduled for 1:1 services from two, thirty minute sessions per week to just one, or are writing “group instruction” where “individual instruction” once existed into the IEP. This is a matter of TIME mismanagement, not a response to the needs of the child. It looks like everyone’s effected. Community college instructors have been asked to take a pay cut in salary and also asked to take a furlough day.
Many veteran instructors in both the public schools and community colleges in California have been asked and have chosen the option of early retirement, opting out of making less money in exchange for additional working hours expected and administrative assignments.
San Andreas Regional Center has suffered immensely as a result of a funding crisis that was the result of a vote against taxes that would support their services. The outcome has been the unthinkable: case carriers have been forced to take on unthinkably enormous case loads.
Many I know are managing more than twenty additional cases than are outlined in their job descriptions, and, more importantly, they are working their case loads with the same time allotted to their previously (already over-inflated) caseloads.
So what happens when everyone is worried about budgets and the valued veterans who have stayed on board are asked to do more - but for less?
Here’s what I’m seeing.
I’m seeing a warn out, over-extended group of administrators in Monterey County. Too many places to be and too little time at each.
I’m seeing great therapists from Children’s Behavioral Health elect early retirement rather than work themselves into the ground. Too exhausted to be sure that they’ll be able to keep the oath of “do no harm”.
I’m seeing Speech and Language therapists put in positions in which they have to compromise their professional integrity to keep their jobs. They know that their recommendations for services for some children are inadequate, but they also know that they only have so many working hours in a week. Spread too thinly over too many schools.
I’m seeing teachers who are concerned about their relationships with administrators. At one time, they could count on their administrators to go to bat for them regarding support during IEP meetings, ordering basic classroom supplies and allocating program funds for enrichment. Pressured to seek private funds from families for class supplies and field trips.
I’m seeing children denied services…and failing. These are children who, five years ago, would have qualified for both SPED and Regional Center Services in a heartbeat . Too many kids per class with school enrollments that were not designed for the population.
What’s the answer?
Right now, it all comes down to THE PARENTS.
Many parents have taken the challenge upon themselves. They’ve organized fund raisers to keep special programs in place, even some as functional and mundane as keeping school buses running.
Parents of children who require intensive interventions have lobbied on behalf of nonunion aides who have come to know and understand the needs of their children rather than accepting an “assigned aide” and starting all over again.
Parents groups have formed, county by county, to formally address the needs of their children, challenging the interpretation of “least restrictive environment” . If severely LD children are mainstreamed as a result of SPED funding cutbacks, it turns out that they’re often actually being denied the environment (classroom setting, technology or special services) that’s appropriate to meet their needs. “Least restrictive” isn’t the same as “doing without”.