NUSD Race: Special Education Needs

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

THE NATOMAS BUZZ invited the 10 candidates for Natomas Unified school board to participate in a series of articles wherein they answer questions submitted by readers.

Today’s question was sent to us by reader Wendy Mibach, whose 14-year-old daughter and Special Day Class classmates have not received a single speech therapy session – one of the special education services outlined in their individualized education programs (IEP) – since school started seven weeks ago on August 15.

THE NATOMAS BUZZ asked, “Given the Natomas Unified School District’s reputation for not honoring individualized education programs (IEPs) when providing special education services to students – which amounts to thousands of dollars in litigation, among other costs – what do you see the board’s role is in ensuring district schools uphold the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and providing special education services in the least restrictive environment?”

Here are the answers submitted by the deadline, in the order they were received:

Ryan Herche
Natomas Unified School Board exists to serve all students, including those with learning disabilities. I fully support the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and agree schools should provide the least restrictive environment to accommodate students with special needs. There may be disagreement between parents and the school district as to what this means, but the district should make every possible effort to fully accommodate students while guarding against unreasonable requests and relying on arbitration. As a board member, I’d actively solicit our federal representatives to have Congress fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to levels intended when it was approved. This would help resolve some of the conflict school districts face with parents, and would help improve the efficacy of the programs in place to assist our students with special needs. My desire is to promote in every way I can, equal and quality access to education.
Mike Bedrosian
As the parent of a special needs child this one is dear to me. I have seen the system fail not only my child but many children with similar issues. I have had to wait months to get my child an IEP, to help him adjust to everyday life in public schools. With all of the cuts that the current board has made it has become increasingly difficult for us to send our child to a public school. Some of the best staff in our district has left or been fired and replaced with non-certified, untrained staff. This has caused my child and many others to digress in their learning. The board needs to ensure that all children are taken care of, not just the ones they deem worthy. We need to ensure resources are available to all children. If one child fails, then we fail as a board.

Vina Guzman
Districts are required to offer programs and services that provide students with a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. To accomplish this, staff must keep to the student’s IEP and comply with all state and federal laws. Having an intellectually disabled niece who lived with me and graduated from Natomas High gave me a new appreciation of special education. The Special Education Review conducted by School Services in November 2011 recommended further staff training on identifying compliance problems so they can be proactive with solutions instead of reactive. As a board member, I would ensure staff is provided the necessary resources for continuing education so they may effectively meet the needs of students. It’s the board’s responsibility to effect change and we should always remember that special education is an intervention program, not a label, delivered in a setting that is truly appropriate and the least restrictive.

Scott Dosick
As an NUSD board member, I will have both a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that all of our students’ needs are met. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) must be provided for students needing special education services. School districts must give parents the opportunity to participate in discussions relating to a student’s eligibility assessment and the types of services to be provided. All students with special needs are legally entitled to a “free appropriate public education.” The problem lies in defining the word appropriate. Special education is woefully underfunded, creating tensions between school districts and the parents as they try to work together to determine the best “appropriate” strategies. Districts should be advocates, not adversaries, for families struggling through this convoluted and emotional process. Board members must ensure we have a highly qualified, trained, and capable Special Education Director and staff.

Bruce Roberts
I disagree with the premise of the question. NUSD takes special education very seriously and works hard to address all the needs of children in the district. The special education department serves on average 14% of the student population; this translates to approximately 1,300 along with a cost to the district of millions of dollars. District staff does a great job of serving special needs students and ensuring that IEPs are implemented in an appropriate manner. But I also realize that there is always room for improvements. That is why I support on-going training to staff on the writing legally compliant IEPs and how to resolve disputes collaboratively with parents in order to avoid litigation. Additionally, the district is conducting an assessment to ensure best practices are used in serving Autistic students and is implementing an RTI (response to intervention) prevention system to maximize student achievement and reduce behavior problems.

HK Allen
As a parent with a child that has an individual education program (IEP) it is important to know that the district is holding each school accountable when it comes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is the role of the district to provide each student with the tool necessary to promote them to the next grade level, not to place road blocks such as not honoring the IEPs that will hinder a child which would result in not only a student falling behind, but a potential disregards for education and an increase in the dropout rate. We must make sure that all Natomas schools are equally given the resources needed to honor each student’s individual education programs. The main focus is providing an education for all students on all our campuses, and not becoming a selective district which serves one part or Natomas and not the other.

Karen Bernal
Having spoken with a few parents of special education students, what I’m finding is that for years: •There has been a lack of direction with respect to expectations for the Special Education Dept., and a lack of delineation understood by all involved of who is responsible for specified roles. The systemic shortcoming exacerbates the breakdown in coordination between the department and various school site staff, and all but ensures that IEPs will not be followed. •Ongoing communication with parents of special education students has been lacking, with many parents indicating district responsiveness to their concerns as being unacceptably slow. •Special education as a fundamental need has been devalued through ongoing replacement of experienced instructors with non-credentialed and inexperienced personnel. Such changes have not ended well for students or their families. School boards must treat special education needs as foundational as core curriculum and set policy accordingly.

Sue Heredia
Special education educators in NUSD are dedicated to the students they serve and ensure that IEPs are implemented in an appropriate manner. The Special Education Dept. completes reviews of IEP compliance and proper paperwork. The district is committed to professional development such as: writing legally complaint IEPs and training on how to resolve disputes with parents. Additionally, parent concerns are generally resolved through resolution sessions (not litigation) that are of no cost to the district. As a trustee and chair, Special Education Masters Program at CSUS, I want to make certain that students with special needs are educated in the least restrictive environment. Training on how to ensure this approach was offered over the summer to employees and will continue during the 2012-2013 academic year. Last year there was double-digit growth for our special education sub-group. I am committed to strengthening educational endeavors that foster this type of success.

Briza Trujillo Cardenas
First, the board must ensure that serving student with disabilities becomes one of district’s key strategic priorities, and that the proper funding is allocated for hiring new staff, increasing professional development for existing staff, regular monitoring of quality of services, and gathering feedback from parents, students and employees. Once we have equipped our employees with resources they need and have a monitoring plan to track our progress, we will see a better mix of educational and social services for students with special education, the district would be able to fulfill its obligation under the Disabilities Education Act, and tax payers will be better served. As a parent and student advocate, I am incensed that year after year the board continues to disregard previous litigations recommendations and cannot do a basic cost-benefit analysis. As a trustee, I will take action and make change happen. Our kids deserve better.
Have a question you’d like to ask the candidates? Send it to us at [email protected]. 

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