In light of state budget cuts, a number of school districts in California are engaging in unlawful practices in the name of saving a buck that violate the educational and/or civil rights of special education students, their families, and, if they dare to say anything, their teachers.?In essence, what the?California Teachers Association (“CTA”)?says is going on is that these districts, and likely others, are hiring outside consultants for tens of thousands of dollars to help them figure out how to cut costs.
If that doesn’t sound oxymoronic right there, just wait – it gets worse.?After forking over taxpayer dollars to pay for these consultations, districts are being advised by these consulting firms to?eliminate?RSP and SDC programming, call everything SAI (for “specialized academic instruction”), and push all the special education students into general education without appropriate supports. They’re not even trying to re-brand it as some farcical kind of RtI. And teachers, thank the Heavens, are running to CTA to enforce special education law, not evade it, which is how this has all come to light.
This is one of those instances when I’m disgusted and encouraged at the same time. After years of dealing with general ed teachers who resent having special ed students their classrooms, and who go running to their local union reps looking for backup while parents have to resort to state-level compliance complaints to shut them up and make them do their jobs, it’s refreshing to see an argument being made by teachers on behalf of students with special needs through their unions for a change.
Granted, the argument is still about getting special ed kids out of general education, but the argument here is reasonably sound. And, granted, the argument is also being made in part by special education teachers who stand to lose their jobs if their classrooms are eliminated and their students become fully included, but that’ s oversimplifying the issue and failing to appreciate the spirit of Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) and the whole point of individualization in special education.
The credible argument asserted by these teachers is that the program changes being made by these districts is to a one-size-fits-all “cookie-cutter” program for kids who require?individualized?programming because of their disabilities. Full inclusion can be successful for many children, but it requires adding a lot of resources to the general education setting so that it can provide adequate instruction to a diverse body of learners. That costs money and these changes are being made to cut costs, not shift them for the purpose of achieving more appropriate student outcomes in the LRE.
CTC has not only called involved school districts on the carpet, they’ve identified a number of them by name. These districts include:
- San Francisco
- San Bernardino
- Cajon Valley
- San Diego
- Salinas (not specified as to the Elementary or High School district)
- El Monte (not specified as to the Elementary or High School district)
What is very helpful is CTA’s reference to a 9th Circuit Decision from 2009 in the matter of?Susan Barker v. Riverside County Office of?Education. (CTA cites this as a Supreme Court Decision, but I couldn’t find evidence that this went all the way to the Supreme Court and suspect this was just an editorial error.) It is helpful because it makes clear that CTA is helping protect teachers from retaliation and is citing pertinent case law that make clear teachers’ protected authority to report special education violations.
The 9th Circuit did a fine job of smacking the COE down and remanding the matter back to District Court to be tried, finding that Ms. Barker could sue her employer for retaliating against her for advocating for her special education students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 based on the plain language of the statute. I couldn’t find any further Court Decisions following the 9th Circuit’s Decision, so I suspect the case probably settled after that.
Barker v. Riverside COE cites another important 9th Circuit Decision that we’ve referred to before, that being ?Settlegoode v. Portland Schools, 371 F.3d 503, 512 n.6 (9th Cir.2004). In that case, Pamela Settlegoode was awarded a $1M remedy (awarded by the court, not negotiated in settlement) after she was retaliated against by her employer for advocating for her special education students.
This is powerful stuff! If teachers are finally waking up to the reality that they are legally protected against retaliation by their employers for standing up for their students with disabilities, we’ve turned a very important page. And it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.?What is going on right now with school districts creatively rearranging programs to escape the expenses of special education at the expense of student welfare and achievement is nothing short of the bureaucratic sodomy of children with disabilities.
CTA reports: “Educators say students with disabilities are forced into general education classes because other options have been removed from IEP paperwork. In fact, when IEP team members are asked to check the resources they believe would be best for students, the special day class (SDC) and resource specialist program (RSP) classifications have been removed from forms in many districts. Thus, they cannot choose from a ‘full continuum’ of service as required by law, explains Barbara Schulman, a special education teacher in Saddleback Valley.” In other instances, staff are either advised by administrators to unlawfully?change IEPs outside of IEP meetings and without parental consent to less costly configurations of service or the administrators are unlawfully changing the legally binding documents themselves.
This is untenable and teachers need to unite with parents to protect students from further harm and recoup what can be recouped on their behalves.?CTA concurs, advising teachers: “Parents concerned about the educational needs of their child can be allies to make sure special education supports are in place. CTA advises educators to encourage parents to keep good records of all communication in connection with their child, to become informed about the law and their rights, and suggests they visit websites for the U.S. Department of Education as well as the California Department of Education.”
The loss of educational benefit these children are suffering will hurt them and society for the rest of their lives. Whatever pennies may be pinched by cutting these corners (illegally) now will result in millions of dollars in costs over the course of these children’s lifetimes in public benefits when they grow up to become unemployable or underemployed, not to mention the lost tax revenue we’ll suffer over their lifetimes due to their reduced or eliminated abilities to contribute.
The only money that is being saved by these?disingenuous strategies is short-term savings that aren’t really savings at all. They turn into dollars that line the pockets of high-priced shysters posing as consultants and school district administrators being paid six-figure incomes to do anything but educate our children who then hire these shysters at public expense to help them perpetuate their self-serving schemes.
I mean, if everyone were to figure out that the real money wasted?is on six-figure incomes that are anything but earned, we might all decide to eliminate over-paid administrators and put that money into the classroom where it belongs. And, that would mean teachers who get paid what they’re worth and who feel safe in attending to their ethical and legally mandated duties to our children.