As the dispute between the Sacramento City Teachers’ Association and the school district wages on, parents of students with disabilities are concerned that the ongoing argument is causing harm to the district’s most vulnerable.
The district and teachers union are debating, among other distance learning issues, about how Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities are carried out and documented during this time.
For Sarah Williams Kingsley and her 12-year-old son who has autism, the district’s distance learning plan has been chaotic from the start, with her son not getting the support he has legally been mandated to receive. In the spring, when schools first closed because of the pandemic and distance learning began, Williams Kinglsey said her son stopped hearing from his learning specialist entirely.
He was left to navigate online learning on his own, despite having an education plan that required he get 90 minutes of one-on-one teaching from a reading instructor.
“So I thought ‘Oh, school is in a crisis, maybe nobody’s getting services,’” Williams Kinglsey recalled. “But I found out in very late May that those were supposed to have picked up when schools reopened, and that some teachers and students had been meeting in small groups for these individualized lessons.”
She was eventually able to contact the reading specialist assigned to her son, but the family was just given worksheets, which Williams Kinglsey said she didn’t know how to use. Since then, she’s been able to be home with her son and has been helping him with enrichment over the summer.
But she’s worried that there still isn’t any plan in place as the school year starts again. With the disagreement between the district and the union ongoing, she said her son, who just entered middle school, has yet to receive a new individualized plan.
“I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” she said. “But I don’t think he’s fallen so far behind that he’s going to not complete seventh grade. But I spend a lot of time with him — I’m at home.”
In a previous interview with CapRadio, teachers union president David Fisher said that the district’s push to have teacher’s document how IEPs are implemented is a lot of red tape.
“What the district has put in their proposal is a lot of mandates around paperwork for compliance with no guidance around how teachers are supposed to complete them,” Fisher said. “They’ve added various levels of reports that have to be done that will take hours and hours. We’re saying we should have a plan so our special education instructors have more time to provide the instruction instead of filling out paperwork.”
However, the district argues the union’s proposed distance learning plan is a “civil rights issue,” and that it would cause the district to violate laws that require specific amounts and types of instruction for special education students. It has appealed to the California Department of Education for guidance on Wednesday.
“The District’s student population encompasses a large number of English learners, low-income students, foster youth, students with exceptional needs, and students experiencing homelessness,” district superintendent Jorge Aguilar wrote in a letter to state superintendent Tony Thurmond, “and what’s best for those students necessarily calls for a different approach than that implemented in other dissimilar districts.”
SCUSD has around 6,500 special education students, 70% of whom are students of color. The majority are African American and Latinx students who have been diagnosed with emotional disturbance or language disabilities and are more likely than any other racial group to be given an IEP, according to a recent district report.
Renee Webster-Hawkins is another parent of a student with disabilities in the district, and while she said her family has been able to manage the disorganization, she is worried about those with less resources.
“I know that there’s families who don’t even know how to access a session on Zoom let alone how to call their principal and insist that their IEP be followed,” Webster-Hawkins said.
Angel Garcia, a district motherand member of a parent group called the Coalition for Students with Disabilities, said she’s disturbed at how the district and teacher’s union aren’t serving students. Recent engagement surveys done by the district show that a high proportion of students who have been found not participating in online lessons and distance learning are students with IEPs and students with disabilities.
“From parents and families, we’re hearing that the students are not getting what they need in terms of their IEPs,” she said. “If they need extra support in math or socialization — all these areas identified in their IEPs — and they’re not getting it because of how a particular schedule is set up, or if a parent’s being told, ‘Now you do it,’ that’s not appropriate. That’s not a free, appropriate public education.”
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