- Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities affect potentially 1 in 5 (20%) students. There are over 41,000 students in SCUSD, yet the Specific Learning Disability (SLD) prevalence noted in the SCUSD special education audit report released spring 2017 indicates only 4.4% of students were identified with SLD. Parents have reported that their children's learning disabilities are being ignored and behavior and attention issues are blamed for these deficits. SCUSD uses a wait-to-fail model. Failure to provide evidence-based instruction to students with reading disorders is creating a clear pathway to the school-to-prison pipeline.
The Coalition recommends that SCUSD invest in professional development for teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through 12th grade, to learn and teach structured literacy and multi-sensory math curriculum which, if delivered explicitly and with fidelity, can more effectively remediate struggling students within the academic year.
The $3 million dollars the District spent on summer remediation in 2018 could have gone a long way in providing appropriate professional development in evidence-based practices.
Read the CA State Guidelines for Dyslexia to learn more - Learn more
In SCUSD, the illegal Appendix D, which existed as part of the District’s contract with the Sacramento City Teacher's Association (SCTA) for over 20 years since 1993, attempted to describe "special education student inclusion", providing three definitions of what that entailed and that it was a teacher's choice whether to "accept" students with disabilities into general education classes.
This culture has permeated ever since SCUSD fought Rachel H.’s family to prevent her from learning in a general education classroom due to her disability in 1992.
Although Appendix D was finally removed in Fall 2017, after extensive advocacy on this issue by SCUSD's Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC) parents and students, further work must be done to change the culture in the district.
The District has continued to add special day classes (SDCs) and has not expanded Inclusive Practices. In addition, the District has not met the State Performance Plan (SPP) indicators for Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in reducing the number of students who are moved to separate schools nearly double the allowable number of students that were moved to separate schools. (See https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/ds/leadatarpts.asp). As a result, students are forced to spend excessive time riding on buses to schools outside of their neighborhoods. Parents have observed that buses are frequently delayed to school causing students to miss valuable instruction time.
Parents also report that their students enrolled in SDCs do not receive access to equitable social and academic learning opportunities as students in the general education classes at the school (field trips, clubs, leadership activities, sports, etc.). In addition, Special education teachers must be provided with the equitable resources to those that general education teachers receive.
The Coalition recommends that all schools begin real work on making schools more inclusive for all students, and this includes appropriate training, positive support learning and behavior, and assistive technology resources. The nearly $12 million going towards transporting students to segregated, self-contained placements could be redirected towards expanding Inclusive Practices in the classroom and other programs to improve school climate. To change this requires the redirection of funding towards professional development and resources for schools and classrooms.
- Universally Designed Learning (UDL)
As the Special Education audit points out, Universally Designed Learning (UDL) is an evidence-based approach that is designed to meet the needs of students with a wide range of abilities, learning styles, learning preferences, and educational backgrounds, and includes those with low academic achievement, disabilities, and limited English proficiency. By applying the principles of UDL, students with varying abilities are able to access education and training. UDL supports educational practice that: Provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged. UDL also reduces barriers to instruction, provides appropriate accommodations and supports, and challenges the maintaining of high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.
The Coalition encourages SCUSD to implement The Council of the Great City School's audit recommendations to develop a comprehensive plan for professional development and implementation that would include UDL. The audit indicates only a small group of five district personnel who are providing training on UDL.
- Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)
The Coalition encourages SCUSD to follow through on the Council of the Great City Schools recommendation to develop a systemwide MTSS Framework, implementation plan, and oversight plan. Parent/family involvement in the MTSS process is essential. Students with disabilities and their parents/guardians need to be consulted and included in the formulation of these plans. The audit also recommended for the District to invite various advisory groups representing differing interests, such as the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for special education, to give feedback to the MTSS leadership team. This has not occurred until recently (Summer 2019), but we do not have evidence that teacher's have been included. The involvement and participation of teachers in the development of MTSS will be critical Without the involvement of the teachers who work closest with students, these efforts will be futile.
Like the Council for Great City Schools, our Coalition strongly recommends "that the district use an expert who has experience successfully developing and implementing MTSS in urban school districts to facilitate collaboration among the central office, schools, the SCTA, and other stakeholders. The use of an expert would enable the district to benefit from other school districts’ experiences; help resolve SCTA issues regarding MTSS, including SPARK; and to expedite completion of the MTSS framework and implementation plan."
Healthy and Safe School Climate
All students should feel safe and able to learn at school. A healthy and safe school climate hinges on many factors such as how students feel about themselves, how they relate to peers, and how they relate to adults at the school. SCUSD refers to this as Social and Emotional learning (SEL).'
- Bullying Prevention and Intervention, Restorative Justice, School Discipline, and Mental Health Supports
These are overlapping components that promote a safe and healthy school climate. Data shows us that students with disabilities are being suspended in disproportionate numbers, especially African-American students. Parents also report they are being called to come and pick up their children early which is masking the true suspension numbers. The disparaging discipline numbers, high absenteeism, and the low graduation rates show that the climate efforts in SCUSD require immediate, improved implementation.
The Coalition encourages SCUSD to ensure that District programs are being implemented with fidelity at all school sites. The District must implement its own policies and support students at all levels but has been failing to do so. Site administrators also have a high degree of responsibility to provide professional development for educators and school staff. Additional funding and staffing is needed at schools where the students are.
- Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS)
The law governing the provision of mental health services in California changed in 2011 from a county-based to a school district-based resource, which is now provided through the special education process. SCUSD’s education-related mental health service (ERMHS) teams are used to assess students’ needs for designated instruction and support (DIS services). The audit indicates a large number of focus group participants shared anecdotes about students exhibiting severe behaviors and having significant social/emotional needs, and expressed frustration with the ERMHS process. Specifically, the following challenges were noted regarding behavior intervention coaching, gatekeeping, assessments, and collaboration in the ERMHS process. The audit further discusses the district’s use of private agencies for students with significant behavioral and mental health challenges and issues with the training, retention, and collaboration with staff.
The Coalition agrees with the audit recommendations that a representative group of special education department personnel and school-based personnel knowledgeable about the ERMHS process, review concerns discussed in the audit and revise the process so that the team’s expertise can be used more appropriately to support teaching and learning, and schools are more accountable for following written expectations.
The Coalition also agrees that that individuals with expertise can and should provide information to school personnel, and model and coach teachers to act and talk differently to students to de-escalate and prevent difficult situations. They also need to be able to identify and arrange for additional support, which can be phased out over time. School leadership and personnel also need to be accountable for following up with recommendations when they are properly resourced and supported. This process also needs to be proactive in providing professional learning opportunities and individual support for teachers who are new—especially those who come from other countries and may lack the knowledge and skills to address the behavior and mental health issues of their students.
In addition, schools must be involved in the planning for these programs. School Site Councils and the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) Parent Advisory Committee must be diverse and inclusive of parents with disabilities and special education teachers to ensure that plans are created with all students in mind. There should be a link to these groups, to the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and a District-wide connection of School Site Councils, so that School Site Councils are not working in silos.
F.A.I.R. Education Act - Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education
The school culture must authentically support and believe in students with disabilities. All teachers must know what the FAIR Act is and include lessons on the contributions of people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ students. This will not only encourage student empowerment and self-advocacy but also a positive school climate where differences are celebrated and valued. The Coalition appreciates that the District has a Learning Specialist who is volunteering time to list resources on the District's website and recommends additional resources to expand FAIR resources and provide professional development. (SCUSD resources: http://www.scusd.edu/fair-education-act)
Self-Advocacy, Empowerment and Greater Independence
As it states in the audit, in California, school districts are to begin transition planning for students with IEPs by no later than when a student is 16 years old (but need not wait that long). The planning process includes age-appropriate transition assessments, transition services, courses of study that will reasonably enable students to meet postsecondary goals, and annual IEP goals related to students’ transitional needs. Transition services and supports prepare students for employment and independent living through a coordinated set of activities that promote movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation.
In SCUSD, the graduation rate from 2010-11 to 2014-15 increased by 5.7 percentage points to 80.3 percent for all students, while the rate for students with IEPs decreased by 4.9 percentage points to 57.5 percent. Students with IEPs earned their highest rate in 2012-13, 70 percent. In spring 2017 the rate of graduation declined for students with IEPs to 58.3%. This is a dilemma that must be addressed. The graduation rate reported in 2018 by CDE is 61.9% for students with disabilities so there has been a small increase but the rate is still VERY LOW.
The special education audit points out another serious concern regarding the significant decline in the number of students with IEPs between 11th and 12th grade. There is no explanation provided in the audit to explain this drop in IEPs. This needs to be explained.
With regard to IEP compliance in secondary transition goals and services, Indicator 13 of the State Performance Plan (SPP) measures the percent of students aged 16 and above with an IEP that included all eight coordinated, measureable, annual IEP goals and transition services that reasonably enable the student to meet their postsecondary goals. According to the state’s 2015-16 report. The compliance rate for SCUSD was 95.26% for 1,435 students reviewed for transition services. The target was not met. The compliance rate for this indicator is 100 percent. For 2017-18, SCUSD also did not meet this goal. In addition, the CA state dashboard indicated that only 4.1% of students with disabilities met the proficiency level for College and Career Readiness (VERY LOW rating).
The Coalition recommends the District partner with community-based organizations and agencies to improve transition planning and increase the use of Universally Designed Instruction (UDL) and evidenced-based learning interventions to help students with disabilities achieve their learning potential.
Upholding the Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
If the District wants to show they will make changes needed it will be important for leaders to act in good faith with following IEP and ADA laws. This is another area where professional learning is needed.
There are wealth of community resources that the District and schools can utilize such as services from community Organizations such as Yo! Disabled and Proud, Disability Rights California, State Council on Learning Disabilities, and Decoding Dyslexia, and other groups, to train parents, administrators, teachers, and staff. The Coalition will continue to advocate for the rights of students.