On February 6 and 7, four public input sessions will be held in connection with the SMMUSD Special Education Review study currently being conducted by Lou Barber & Associates. Barber’s firm was contracted for an independent audit of the District’s special education program after the City Council agreed to withhold $530,000 of a $750,000 increase in education funding until the appropriateness of confidentiality clauses signed by the parents of special education students had been addressed.
Barber comes to the District with over 40 years of experience. In addition to work in the Riverside, Santa Clara, and Sacramento school districts, he has served as California Department of Education Assistant Superintendent, where he oversaw special education. As a consultant, Barber has worked extensively in the field of special education and has lent his expertise to the Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and San Diego Unified School Districts, among other districts.
Although Barber’s 17-point plan proposal involves analysis of various financial and staff training issues, the controversial confidentiality clauses will figure heavily into his assessment.
“It’s an interesting situation,” Barber told the Mirror in a recent interview, estimating that 140 gag orders have been implemented in recent years. Given the importance of parental feedback during the course of the study, the confidentiality agreements can hinder research as some parents may feel that they cannot air their grievances.
Barber and his colleagues are currently working on obtaining waivers that will allow parents who have signed confidentiality agreements to be interviewed by the researchers. Ideally, waivers will be available in time to allow parents to come forward during the public input meetings. The details of this agreement, however, have not been finalized.
“We will work hard to protect the rights of the parents and protect the rights of the District and protect the rights of the lawyers that drafted those [agreements],” said Barber. “It’s a multi-valued issue that we have to work and I think that we’re getting there.”
Barber anticipates that there will be parents willing to voice concerns at the meetings regardless of gag orders. He also indicates that, waivers or not, there will also be parents uncomfortable with speaking in public. In those instances, one-on-one meetings, both in person and by phone, may be arranged.
“We’re getting ready so that we can take input from parents without putting them in jeopardy,” he said.
In addition to listening to the grievances of the District’s parents, Barber’s team will be coordinating interviews with District employees, including but not limited to teachers, nurses, school psychologists, and administrators. A recent panel involving school principals has already been conducted.
Barber will also be investigating the number and nature of cases in the hearing process. Parents with disputes are permitted to request hearings with the District. Barber will compare the number of hearings within SMMUSD to those at other school districts to discern if there is a problem with dispute resolutions that needs to be addressed. He will not be assisting in the resolution of any complaints.
“The intent of the study is to look at a broad stroke of the pieces of special education to see if it makes sense,” he said.
Barber is working with a relatively short time frame for this study. Having been awarded the contract in December, the team lost two weeks of work during the winter holidays, when schools and other offices were closed. A final report is scheduled for a March 15 due date (Barber noted that a similar assignment in Baltimore, Maryland took over a year to complete). Per the proposal, the current deadline is dependent on timely access to interviews and documentation. So far, SMMUSD has complied with all of Barber’s requests for information.
Input forums will be open to the public. Dates, times, and locations are as follows:
February 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (District Office Boardroom, 1651 16th St.)
February 7, 10:00 a.m.-noon (District Office Boardroom)
February 7, 2:00-4:00 p.m. (District Office Boardroom)
February 7, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (Malibu High School Library, 30215 Morning View Drive)
Lou Barber can be reached at email@example.com.