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Matthew Asner

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A Call to Action From a Concerned Parent

Posted: 04/06/10 11:05 AM ET

A few weeks ago I sent out a letter that detailed plans by The Los Angeles School District (LAUSD) to mandate the closing of roughly a quarter of the special education classes in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. I can only assume that the rest of the LAUSD's special education classes will undergo similar cuts. I sent it to every parent I know and implored them to send it to every parent they know.

I see this as a national issue. The same thing is happening in Detroit and many other cities in the US. If the people of Los Angeles don't protect special education, it is probable that arbitrary cuts will become an epidemic in the country with state politicians hiding behind local government and school boards. In Los Angeles, the superintendent and the school board are mandating a quick fix solution that will violate the rights of many students and end up costing the city, state and country more money in the long run in attorneys fees alone. We need them to realize that paying for 15 years of services for special needs children will save them from taking care of a large majority of them for 60+ years. That giving them this precious help in their formative years will give them the strength and skills to become vibrant contributing adults. We're not just talking Autism here, which effects 1 out of 70 boys. Special Education includes a wide range of conditions including ADD, ADHD, and Down Syndrome to name a few.

There have been many articles that state LAUSD has cut a deal with the teachers union that will lose 5 days of the school year and in doing so keep 1800 jobs. In every article I have read there has been no mention of special education.

If the rights of special education students are violated, school boards from other cities will point to Los Angeles and say -- "Well, they did it."

Please take a few minutes to read my original writing as well as Sharyn Howell's response and my response to her.

Our country has always encouraged and made it possible for its citizens to access a solid educational foundation. The changes that the LAUSD is almost secretly making will undermine that great tradition and endanger our country. Education must be put first.

What follows is my original letter:


A Call To Action From a Concerned Parent

I am a public school father. I have a child in special education and a child in general education. I have received papers from a source at Wilbur Ave. Elementary that glaringly reveal the plans and completely callous attitude towards our Special Needs program in the public schools by Superintendent Ramon Cortines. The documents are damning for so many reasons. The planned changes show a complete lack of preparation and thought. The plans illustrate the desperation of LAUSD to cut costs at all costs. It seems that there is one thing that has been conveniently left out of all of the proposed cuts. That would, of course, be any thought for our children.

I spent 40 minutes on the phone with Cheryl Krohn. She is the Head of the Special Education Dept. in District 1. After explaining my concerns she took me through the reality of the situation and it is even worse than I had previously stated. Ramon C. Cortines, The Superintendent of LAUSD has mandated that District 1 and 2 close 64 Special Ed classes. These districts make up the valley. They had originally been told to close 27 in District1 and 22 in District 2 and Cortines has added to that number. More will probably be added. Pink slips have already gone out. As a matter of fact Ms. Krohn informed me that she (the head of district 1) had received a pink slip as well.

Ms. Krohn told me that when she was mandated to close 27 classrooms she voiced her concerns to her superiors. She said that "she didn't know how she could do it" and that "she thought it was crazy." Her superiors told her that the per class Norm had to be increased. The only exception was autism. That exception has since been lifted. In fact, she informed me that in the fall there will be an Autistic class in a high-school in her district with 19 students in it. I told her this was a human rights violation. She did not object to that statement. She said that LAUSD is in a crisis and that the way we look at public education will change. She anticipates much forced retirement and attrition in the field of special education in the coming year. This is a disaster in the making. Actually it is a disaster.

There has been a reluctance from LAUSD officials to write about this for fear that parent groups and attorneys will have time to intervene. Officials at the schools are obviously very concerned. The school officials I have spoken with have eloquently voiced their concerns to downtown and have received only obligatory replies. There is a mention of busing in these documents. In an email from Cheryl Krohn it states that the children will be bused to "appropriate alternative locations". Pressing for further information, school officials verbally voiced their deep concern about the children in their special needs program and about where they would go. LAUSD simply stated that "they had no plans as of yet" and that the only certainty is that "they would be bused." I am also told there has been pressure to deny service and to move children that are not ready from special education into general education. This completely irresponsible act will not only endanger these special needs children but also take up valuable time from an already overtaxed teacher giving her less time and resources to teach her "typical" children.

Every child in special eduction has an IEP or individualized education plan. This allows teachers and school officials to address each child's needs in the classroom. In an already heavily weighted IEP system these changes will certainly be disastrous. Lower income and ESL (English as a Second Language) parents who are already wildly unrepresented will surely be completely lost now. Getting services to special needs children must be a priority. LAUSD continues to think like bean counters without any thought about our children. This is a human rights emergency. We need these people to understand that these cuts border on child abuse. We need these people to understand that early education and special needs services are paramount to the futures of these children and to our nations future. We need them to realize that paying for 15 years of services for special needs children will save them from taking care of a large majority of them for 60+ years. That giving them this precious help in their formative years will give them the strength to become vibrant contributing adults. We're not just talking Autism here, which effects 1 out of 70 boys. Special Education includes a wide range of conditions including ADD, ADHD, and Down Syndrome to name a few.

Renowned education attorney Valerie Vanaman underscores the insanity at LAUSD. "It is doubtful that Board Members are aware of the chaos that is being created - or the implications of that chaos - for example, if kids in 67 classrooms file for due process, many of them will get some relief and the amount they will spend on attorney fees will greatly out pace whatever savings they think they are getting. No one at the top administrative level of the District is really thinking through the "actual" consequences in terms of the blow back, let alone the unintended consequences."

This is a call to action! Let's be very noisy about this. We can't let this stand. Call and write Ramon Cortines and let him know that arbitrary cuts to special ed programs are not acceptable. They are, brick by brick, dismantling everything that has been built since the landmark Chanda Smith Decision. This is not just about Los Angeles. Cities like Detroit and others are cutting Special Education. Please help me bring this story out and try and change things. We can't let this happen to our kids and the people who are dedicated to helping them.


Sharyn Howell (Head of Special Education LAUSD) responds:

On Mar 19, 2010, at 5:40 PM, Howell, Sharyn wrote:

Mr. Asner,

I am responding to your email on behalf of Superintendent Cortines. Due to the economic situation across the nation and particularly in California, school districts have been faced with greatly reduced revenues over the past three years. This has reached critical status and superintendents and board members are having to make very difficult decisions while trying to minimize the impact at the school level and continuing to provide an appropriate education to our students. The District continues to work with our bargaining unit members and other staff to find shared ways to reduce the approximately $680M deficit that LAUSD faces this year. One of the very difficult choices that had to be made for 2010-11 was to increase class sizes for both general and special education classrooms and to look at consolidating small schools. These decisions were not made lightly. The increase in class size does result in the loss of LAUSD teachers and administrators based on seniority. Notices were sent by March 15, in accordance with the law, to all administrators and other District personnel who may be affected by reductions.

The Superintendent and Board Members understand parent concerns about class size increases, personnel losses, and school closures and are focused on doing everything possible to preserve District programs for all students. Many students with disabilities currently do not attend their school of residence due to a number of factors such as availability of specialized services or parent choice. The District does try to educate students with disabilities at their home school to the maximum extent feasible and will continue in this practice. However, due to the nature of some disabilities, students may attend a non-resident school for a particular program. For example, there is not a program at every school for students with autism or visual impairments and students are, therefore, transported to an appropriate program as close as possible to their school of residence. This is a common practice in school districts in order to maximize resources. Each year, the District has a process in place for opening and closing general and special education classrooms based on the population of students to be served within each community. This year is no different in regards to this planning.

The Superintendent and the Board of Education are committed to ensuring that students with disabilities receive the supports and services required by their Individualized Education Programs. There will continue to be Special Day Programs, Resource Specialist Programs, Related Services providers, special education teachers, assistants and other necessary supports to serve our students with disabilities.


We appreciate your input and want to assure you that the needs of the students of LAUSD are our number one priority.


Sharyn Howell
Executive Director, Division of Special Education

My response to Sharyn Howell:


Sharyn,

Thanks for your email. I have been buried in emails regarding my call to action and am proud to say that I see the beginnings of a movement.

I fully understand the gravity of LAUSD's budget crisis. I can imagine that every decision that has been made has been extremely difficult. I am sure it will continue to be extremely difficult.

As it is with average citizens in this down economy, we all must change the way we have been living and try to survive the best we can. Everyday people are finding new ways to live and survive. Most are law abiding citizens who are continuing to walk on the right side of the law. It is not only my opinion, but the opinion of virtually every special needs advocate , parent amd lawyer I have spoken with that to raise the norm in a special needs classroom too high (19 students in an autistic high school class in the valley), to bus and in some cases to cut needed individual aids is a possible violation of education law. I am sure this will be looked into by lawyers and I will certainly continue to make noise about this with our new grass roots movement, Save Special Education in LAUSD.

You state in your letter- "Each year, the District has a process in place for opening and closing general and special education classrooms based on the population of students to be served within each community. This year is no different in regards to this planning." It seems that your office's actions betray this statement. I could be wrong. But, isn't it "different" this year to be mandating the closure of roughly a quarter of the special education classes in the valley? Even with a growing population of special education students, per your own records.

A teacher informed me she was told by a board member (copied on this email) that the Board hadn't voted on the closures yet. If they haven't, why is LAUSD "mandating" the closure of these classes and on whose authority?

LAUSD needs to understand that parents of special education children will not stand for our children to be abandoned by the system. If a parent treated a special needs child the way that LAUSD is proposing under these cuts Child Protective services would intervene so quickly heads would spin. A federal appeals court ruled last Monday that parents of a child with special needs can sue a school district for ignoring the problems and failing to arrange educational help.

I read in the paper this morning that LAUSD has cut a deal with the teachers union that will keep 1800 jobs. In every article I have read it mentions nothing of Special Education. Here is the big question- Are you still planning on closing 64 Special Education classes in the valley and doing away with one on one aids?

I welcome a dialogue and would hope that we could possibly create several town hall meetings where these things could be discussed. I certainly think that we deserve the chance to engage Cortines or the Board in discussion. I am certainly not expecting anyone on your side to agree to this. We are here and we are not going anywhere.

Respectfully,

Matthew Asner

 

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