February 25, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

POV: Special Education Audit Exposes Shameful Truths::

District Offers Excellence, But Not to Students with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: All italics represent text directly from the audit.

An independent evaluation of our public school district’s special education programs, policies, practices, and finances was released this week after nearly a year since it was called for by the City Council as a condition for the release of $530,000 in city funds to the schools. The 78-page report – An Independent Evaluation of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Special Education Program by Lou Barber and Associates – describes a number of concerning realities facing students with disabilities in our “world class” school district. Spending has gone up, including lawyers’ fees, while numbers of students receiving special education services have declined. Settlement agreements are overused. And parents and teachers suffer “hostility” and “abuse” from the district special education administration.

Education in the Santa Monica-Malibu School District is often times paradoxical. The academic, extra-curricular and social environment is exceptional for students without disabilities. No one could ask for more. The community as a whole is supportive of education and expects and receives excellence from their school district. The recent passage of the parcel tax with over 70% support bears witness to this. Yet parents of children with disabilities report a very different set of conditions. Parents of students with disabilities report stories of mistreatment and verbal abuse.

At Santa Monica High School, according to the audit, this “antiquated” tale of two school systems is most apparent.

At Santa Monica High School special education students are treated differently than their non-disabled peers in class assignment and programming. Students within special education programs are having their class schedules programmed last and therefore often are placed in a position where they are unable to meet their program requirements. Interviews with teachers at Santa Monica High provided a number of examples of how difficult scheduling their students into general education classes was… The process of scheduling special education students into general education classes after all the general education students have been scheduled fosters an attitude of second-class citizens.

Under former special education director, Deputy Supt. Tim Walker, the department has become top-down, with parents reporting “mistreatment and verbal abuse” and teachers who claim to have been treated “in a hostile manner” and who say that they were “discouraged from speaking freely in IEP meetings especially if they believed a child needed greater services than what the District wanted to provide.”

Hostility and abuse has to be addressed by the Board and the Superintendent in order to provide an acceptable work environment and thereby provide a system that will maintain a professional staff.

The District’s usage of settlement agreements is repeatedly criticized by the audit, which reports that an over-reliance on the use of contracts has created “resentment” from many parents and “disempowerment of school sites.”

There is a feeling among many parents that the deal they get is inexplicitly linked, not to their child’s needs, but to the parent’s (and their attorney’s) ability to play Let’s Make a Deal.

The full report can be accessed at smmusd.org.

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