Parents urge deeper push to improve special ed

Trustee: Harvard report has 'limited value as a guide to action'

VIDEO: Watch a discussion of the Harvard report with Superintendent Max McGee, Board of Education member Ken Dauber and Weekly education reporter Elena Kadvany on this week's "Behind the Headlines."


It was supposed to be the "golden ticket" for the Palo Alto Unified School District's special-education program: an in-depth, comprehensive review conducted by a well-known Harvard University researcher who, parents and administrators hoped, would help the district finally address longstanding issues with its special-education services.

The much-anticipated results of this study, launched more than a year ago, have been released after several delays and will be discussed by the school board on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

The report confirms much of what is already known by parents and administrators in the district about both the good and the bad in special education. Palo Alto sees high rates of inclusion of special-education students in mainstream classes, and the researchers found a strong commitment across teachers, administrators and parents to improvement. But teachers who feel unsupported and parents who are distrustful and frustrated have bred a low level of confidence in the district's ability to effectively support students with special needs.

Noticeably absent from the report is what special-education advocacy group Community Advisory Committee (CAC) requested when the review first launched: a detailed analysis of sub-categories of students --by race, disability, income, school -- and how they fare in Palo Alto.

"We hope that this type of fine-tuned analysis will allow PAUSD to identify where additional expertise related to specific disabilities and evidence-based program options might help us improve our ability to support students," the CAC wrote to Harvard researcher Thomas Hehir in an October 2015 letter.

After Hehir and his team of two Harvard researchers released the preliminary results of the review this summer, CAC chair Kimberly Eng Lee talked with Hehir and one of the researchers. She said she came with a long list of questions based on what she presumed was just the start of their work in Palo Alto. The researcher was "forthright," she said, that the team would not be conducting that level of analysis in their "systems-level" review. It was both beyond the scope of what they had been contracted to do, Lee said, and the data necessary for that analysis was not readily available in the district.

What the CAC sought, said Christina Schmidt, a longtime special-education parent-advocate, is the district's own version of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) --a detailed document, created through collaboration between a student's teachers and parents, that outlines his or her educational path, with necessary support and check-ins along the way.

In IEPs, "diagnosis drives goals which drives services," Schmidt said in an interview. "You have to have smart goals that are timely and measurable. Everything needs to be spelled out specifically, and that's what we don't have."

Similarly, Board of Education member Ken Dauber said that without a full review of staffing, training, communication and the special-education department's goals and progress, the report provides "limited value as a guide to action."

"What we still need is a direct analysis of how well we're doing at delivering services to students," he told the Weekly. "Are we formulating goals and meeting them for students in the district, and do we have the right resources allocated to doing that?

"I'm disappointed the report doesn't really go there."

The district, for its part, sees the report as an important, objective tool for setting goals and addressing parent concerns. And what might be missing in the report can be supplemented by the district, said Chiara Perry, director of special education.

"We now have a foundation or a blueprint that we can build upon," she said. "It's going to be a tool we use to address some concerns from parents and staff, to be able to move forward and do what's in the best interest of the students."

What the report found

The 29-page report identifies areas of strength and improvement and provides five recommendations for how to support the good and address the bad. It comes at a time of transition for Palo Alto's special-education program, with a new director at the helm of a reorganized department.

The review, for which the district has paid about $55,000 to date, according to Perry, was launched at the CAC's request. Hehir, an education professor and longtime special-education advocate, and his researchers spent a week in Palo Alto last October, visiting schools, observing classrooms and speaking with teachers, administrators and parents. They also surveyed parents, teachers and principals and reviewed student data provided by the district.

Positive findings include high rates of inclusion of special-ed students in general-education classrooms, strong test scores of students with disabilities, a districtwide commitment to improvement and some examples of "promising" inclusion practices, particularly at the elementary schools.

Palo Alto's inclusion rates are higher than both the nation's and state's (70.5 percent of students with disabilities are inside regular classes for the majority of the day, compared to 63 percent nationwide and 53 percent statewide), according to the report. Inclusion is "one of the most important factors associated with better academic and life outcomes for students with disabilities," the report states.

Hehir and his team also praised the district's use of co-teaching, or having a general- and special-education teacher in the same classroom, as a way to increase students' access to more rigorous courses and to diversify previously segregated courses. Later, however, the report notes that co-teaching "has the potential to limit student's access to classrooms with high expectations" and that parents reported content in co-taught classes is often similar to less-advanced courses.

Students with disabilities also perform well on standardized tests, though the researchers said they expected to see higher achievement given Palo Alto's high rate of inclusion, affluence and level of resources devoted to students with disabilities.

The researchers were heartened by examples of "promising" inclusion practices in the district, including a high-quality classroom at Greendell Preschool where the teachers had "designed their classroom and their instruction to not just 'allow' students with disabilities to participate but to encourage and support it." The report also highlights Fairmeadow Elementary School's efforts to include more students with autism and a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning for all students.

The examples illustrate how a truly inclusive educational environment cannot be a "series of add-ons of programs or people, but rather intentionally designed into the school and supported by teachers and principals," the report states.

The researchers also lauded the district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee, whose findings and recommendations around closing the achievement gap parallel those for improving outcomes for special-education students.

In speaking with and surveying parents, teachers and administrators, the researchers also said they found a strong districtwide commitment to inclusion and equity.

"There is a strong and sustained desire across stakeholders to address the root issues related to the education of students with disabilities and embrace reforms that will strengthen education for all students," the report states.

Areas for improvement

Hehir and his team found that the school district lacks consistent, proactive and measurable practices when it comes to special education, a deficit that has far-reaching impacts for students and families.

The program is rooted in a "wait to fail model," the report states, "that tends to delay evaluation of learning disabilities until students have failed to make progress."

This has caused deep mistrust between families and the district, according to the report.

Some parents said teachers or administrators had told them that a special-education diagnosis was only for students who are in "really bad shape" --rather than being viewed as a legitimate disability, the report states.

One administrator responded in the survey that students are left behind if they "lack advocates, supportive families, and have needs but do not have a diagnosed disorder or structured intervention plan."

Parents who responded to the survey --mostly white and Asian English speakers --expressed low confidence in the processes for identifying students with special needs. Forty percent of parents indicated that the process was "not at all positive" or only "a little bit positive," citing a lack of evaluation and consistency across teachers, subject areas and schools.

The researchers also found disproportionately high numbers of black and Hispanic students in special education --nearly double the rate for these groups of students nation- and statewide. In Palo Alto Unified, 27 percent of black students, 22 percent of Hispanic students and 27 percent of low-income students are identified has having a disability.

"In other communities where we studied the over-identification of students, teachers often felt that special education was the only avenue to provide remediation or accommodations," the report states. "However, for students of color in particular, identification of special education can be a further means of lowering expectations, limiting access to the full complement of educational opportunities in the district, and stigmatizing students."

An important policy for Palo Alto Unified to articulate --and put into place with fidelity --is that special education is "not a catch all for students needing academic remediation," the report suggests.

Teachers surveyed requested more specific and ongoing training --examples of lessons, ideas for possible interventions or strategies --as well as more time to collaborate with and learn from their peers.

The majority of administrators surveyed, 75 percent, said they wanted to provide their teachers with more support to better meet the needs of students with disabilities. And 61 percent of administrators surveyed said teachers in their schools also need "quite a bit or a great deal of support" in meeting the social and emotional needs of their students. Only 18.5 percent of teachers surveyed said they have sufficient access to materials and strategies to meet their students' behavioral needs.

Some teachers responded that they are overwhelmed and often short on time to help students who need extra support. Parents worried about teachers' workloads, especially in large classes.

While many parents surveyed were "emphatic" about needing more clear, transparent and timely information in special-education processes, some shared positive experiences.

One parent of a student with a learning disability wrote: "PAUSD is very focused on meeting the needs of the student, which is great. They are meticulous and take parent input into account. They have a team approach, which provides a complete picture of the child --and provides insight into his overall growth."

Another parent of a student with autism wrote: "Whenever we've had concerns with services ... we've been able to raise those concerns with the IEP team and have them addressed. The school principal is always quick to respond and ensures follow through of solutions."

"However, these types of experiences were not common enough among the parents," the report notes.

Many parents "described needing to ask for support repeatedly, over time, which suggests that parents with less ability or inclination to advocate for their individual child's needs may be ignored," the report states.

The researchers also found that the district lacks regularly collected, "instructionally useful" data on students with special needs. They themselves said they "encountered several barriers" when seeking data to analyze.

One parent lamented that staff did not show data to guide their child's goals.

"Every year they would write new goals regardless of whether the previous goals were even met or worked on," the parent wrote.

The researchers recommend assessing students' performance in the fall, winter and spring --using a "brief, reliable and valid" universal screener to provide continual feedback for teachers and parents. Such a test would also allow the district to track performance not only for individual students but also across classes and across schools --exactly what the CAC had requested last year.

Hehir and his team also recommended the district create a parent handbook to address concerns about communication and transparency, an effort the district is already undertaking. Perry said she hopes to roll out the handbook next year.

Among the report's other recommendations is a move toward Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational strategy of which Hehir is a strong proponent. UDL focuses on differentiation, with all classroom lessons and activities designed to support students at varying levels.

Parents respond

The review affirmed issues the Community Advisory Committee has long been working to address. Lee and Schmidt agree with the report's findings, particularly the "lack of information for measuring special-education effectiveness ... insufficient classroom supports and evidence-based practices," they wrote in a letter to the school board on Wednesday.

The high rates of inclusion are heartening, they wrote, but by itself inclusion is "not sufficient to ensure access to the supports and specialized instruction students with disabilities need for effective learning."

What was new to Schmidt and Lee in the review, and most telling, they said, was a clear call from both administrators and teachers for better support and training for teachers.

The survey responses showed that teachers "were asking for specific techniques ... to effectively include the students in their classes," Lee said.

Stronger partnerships should also be formed between special-ed teachers and general-education teachers as well as school psychologists, case managers and other specialists, Lee and Schmidt wrote in their letter to the board.

The report's tangible recommendations, such as to create a parent handbook or to bring Universal Design for Learning to Palo Alto, are positive, but will fail without district-level leadership, they wrote.

"The CAC agrees that UDL 'embeds challenge and support into the classroom' by design, but its success depends on the support and leadership of general educators and school principals," their letter states. "As such, it is not a feasible near-term approach."

Independent of UDL, the district still need to be successful at special-education basics, Lee told the Weekly. "It's delivery of services that you have committed to doing."

Lee said her own experience with special education, while positive, required "staunch advocacy, ongoing management, and family resource deployment" --and a strong partnership with the district.

"The point is that neither we nor the school accomplished things alone," she told the Weekly.

A shift away from 'running' special ed

In Schmidt's eyes, management issues are at the root of Palo Alto's special education woes. Without deep commitment and proactive communication from the district level, accountability "falls away immediately," she said.

"If you don't have a management team in there that understands how to implement and get accountability and have follow-up and check in and have that communication open all the time, you're not going to make this work," she said. "That to me is one of the biggest hurdles we have, and have had so for awhile."

Dauber, too, said that "the key issues aren't programmatic issues; I think the key issues are management issues. That is what I want the senior leadership and the board to be focused on."

The report's final recommendation also calls for a shift in district administrators' views of special education.

"The role of the central office will require an adjustment away from 'running special education' to assisting the schools in meeting their responsibilities to effectively educate all students and effectively intervening when necessary to ensure that the rights of these children to appropriate education are maintained," the report states.

Next steps for the district, Perry said, include aligning the report's recommendations with the school board's overarching goals and developing a three-to-four year implementation plan with measurable outcomes and built-in evaluation. The department will also work on a professional-development plan, she said.

Lee and Schmidt wrote in their letter that they hope the district will form a task force focused on special education to ensure "rigorous accountability" for any reforms, instead of placing it on the backs of one or two administrators.

Perry said the district is eager to address parents' concerns. The report is "not the end all be all" but rather a "first step," she said.

"Just because they're not included in the report doesn't mean we won't work on addressing those parent concerns as well," Perry said. "If we need to do some additional work, then we will do that work."

Both Perry and the CAC leaders said they are eager to work cooperatively to improve special education.

The school board will discuss the report on Tuesday, 8-10 a.m., at the district office. Perry said the full survey results will be presented then.

Schmidt said she hopes that the board will see the report for what it is: an affirmation but not a roadmap for special-education in Palo Alto.

"My thinking is that the board will be wise enough to look in between the lines and read this and say, 'It's not enough and we need more,'" Schmidt said. "The board has to be courageous enough to say, 'This is not acceptable.'"

View the full special-education review here.

The school board's study session on special education is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13, 8-10 a.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the agenda here.


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23 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2016 at 10:03 am

General education teachers seem to have very little understanding of learning disabilities, and almost no ability to recognize them, despite how common they are. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness permeates special education as well. This is compounded by the lack of any real critical self-reflection, vigorous opposition to any other points of view, parental or outside expert, bullying of parents (especially mothers), and a strong desire to avoid providing appropriate, critical services in a timely fashion.

Dr. Perry saying she is "eager to address parent's concerns" is bizarre, given that she has never shown any such desire previously.

25 people like this
Posted by 504 SOS
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 9, 2016 at 10:28 am

I read the report, and agree that it's not enough. On a major issue, parent distrust, the report missed by a mile. It made it seem like parents were just clueless and just lacked information, when the reality is quite simple: employee untrustworthy behavior, lies, retaliation, failure to follow policies and law, lack of recourse when employees act in an untrustworthy and damaging manner -- that begets mistrust. A handbook is a laughable response. Seriously, after all these years, the OCR involvement, the district suing parents - and quite frankly putting the screws to many families to get them to leave before this review - we just somehow missed that we need a handbook? When the special ed department lies about having procedures at all, and overtly refuses to abide by its own "binding" policies with no parent recourse, how is a handbook supposed to help?

"Distrust" comes from untrustworthy behavior and even overtly false information from employees who obstruct any attempts to correct the problems (through aggressive legalistic behavior, deliberately stress-inducing strategies typical in adversarial legal proceedings, creating false histories that are impossible to correct because of illegal records practices and playing games to avoid complying with requests, sending families on wild goose chases, failing to follow even the most basic rules, or conduct required assessments, etc.)

Another glaring thing wrong with this report is that it deals not at all with the segment of families whose kids need 504s. Those children are somehow stuck under special ed, and are treated like fifth wheels in the same way that this report does, despite 504s covering so many students. When kids get sick for a long time, if they have a problem like diabetes, MS, or asthma, if they have an accident that affects their educational access, those accommodations come under 504s usually and are handled by special ed personnel. This has never worked well, and the omission of this major segment from overt consideration in the report is further evidence of it. The inclusion and educational issues for many students with 504s are quite different than for kids with learning disabilities. Were they included in the inclusion numbers while being excluded from analysis? If so, the pats on the back about inclusion need to be revisited. If the 504 students were completely shut out in every way from this report, why is that, when the special ed department handles the 504s and problems affect them, too?

Think about it - how many of the serious complaints, lawsuits, have involved students who have medical problems with 504s versus only/also learning disabilities? All of the major ones I can think of. Why were 504s and the special ed department's miserable handling of many so glaringly omitted from this report? I hope the board is reading this, because 504s should really be dealt with by an entirely different (and hopefully more trustworthy and helpful) side of the district office.

20 people like this
Posted by 504 SOS
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 9, 2016 at 11:01 am

P.S. Anecdotally, parent satisfaction with special ed's handling of learning disabilities, despite the problems, is far higher than parent satisfaction with special ed's handling of 504s. They do not handle 504s well, and that works its way down to the school sites. Again, were the students with 504s included in the statistics for inclusion in this report? They shouldn't be, at least not without noting the difference. And why the glaring omission of 504 issues when that seems to be ahere special ed really goes wrong here.

Board: the district really must handle 504s in a completely different way with different personnel. The special ed people cannot handle 504s and aren't interested. The wait-to-fail model is downright damaging in 504 situations.

7 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2016 at 11:15 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

In our experience, the handling of a child with a 504 was totally dependent on the competence and involvement of the school Principal. We were fortunate to have an elementary principal whose view was exactly the opposite of the "wait to fail" option, instead identifying students at a young age and providing support, often without a classification of special ed. What we found in middle school was good intentions, but putting a student that just needed some 504 accommodations into a remedial class they did not need was extremely detrimental (as parents we were not informed ahead of time and it took a semester to get the child out of the class). What we found at Paly regarding 504's was that the teachers expected the students to approach them and inform them of the accommodations. And the accommodations were routinely ignored.

23 people like this
Posted by DENNIS
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 9, 2016 at 12:34 pm

A family member is a grade school teacher in this area and she relates that the rights and inclusion of special ed students has totally destroyed the unity and rights of the others students to properly be educated. Often the special needs children continually are disruptive and out of control in the classroom and that their needs seem by the administration deserve greater attention. Everything is backwards and the regular student suffers because of it. [Portion removed.] Until these basic problems are addressed for what they are by the school system things will just get worse with the way too liberalized attitudes of the school system. We need to "get tough," in concentrating on the rights of the regular student and their rights to an education without disruption.

15 people like this
Posted by PAUSD ASD Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Over 90 percent of teachers can be informed and well meaning, but all it takes is a couple of ignorant and insensitive teachers to significantly damage a child's sense of self-worth. Administration knows who those teachers are and shrug it off. That's not okay. ALL teachers should be educated and enlightened. Also, I'd like to see more about extracurricular support and activities friendly to special ed students.

11 people like this
Posted by PAUSD ASD Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2016 at 12:46 pm

@Positive. I agree, per my comment, that systemic consistency is needed. Enlightenment all around. [Portion removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2016 at 1:09 pm

[Portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Thank you, Elena. This is a thorough and informative piece.

32 people like this
Posted by Bad Principal
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2016 at 2:34 pm

I will NEVER forget the day, when my first-grader was identified as having several learning disabilities, probably due to a long and difficult delivery that restricted his oxygen. The principal, teacher ( who I later found out was pregnant), district psychologist, the IEP specialist and I had just sat down to a meeting. The principal began the meeting with: "First, I think we all agree that ******* is slow."

My breath caught, I was in a temporary state of shock-- the principal had said made such a cruel statement in such a cold and unemotional voice that I knew this meeting would go badly, which it did. Blame was put on me: didn't I ever read to him? Have decent prenatal care (Kaiser was considered inferior)?

After THAT, I always took my husband with me to these meetings!

4 people like this
Posted by Avery satisfied parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Our son ( who Is learning disabled) is 47 yrs. old and went through the Palo Alto School system. He has had tremendous help for all his school years and is now a partner in one of the best Commercial Real Estate Company's in San Jose. We formed a group for the parents to discuss the problems that the children would have to go through.
Our son could have not turned out better. The Palo Alto School teachers were great.

16 people like this
Posted by 504 SOS
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 9, 2016 at 5:01 pm

@Satisfied parent,
Thanks for chiming in. Your experience demonstrates what PAUSD could be, and more clearly points the finger at what is wrong. If you go to CAC meetings, there are parents who remember that PAUSD used to have a stellar reputation with special ed, as you experienced, and even long after your son graduated. And then it changed at an identifiable point in time. I think anyone who wants to look at the situation soberly will be able to see that the change coincided with certain personnel and policies that are still with us.

A lot of people have that experience - things work well a the elementary level because of the closer relationships and willingness of staff to work with families. Often people avoid much formalizing of the accommodations. Things change in middle school there is a noticeable antagonism by district employees when things have go be formalized. You can fight for accommodations that usually end up ignored if you grt them.

@Dennis's post, like the report, underscores what I said: everyone in the system treats 504 students like they are second class citizens. They are as important to accommodate as everyone else, sometimes it's a matter of life and death. It's completely inappropriate to handle the 504s under special ed. Just like Dennis and this report, the 504 students are just completely ignored. 504s do not belong under the purview of special ed.

Now that the CDC suicide report is out and showing just how damaging absenteeism from illness is, the district really must take more seriously the accommodations of students with physical disabilities. They should not be an afterthought or unwelcome duty for antagonistic special ed employees.

12 people like this
Posted by 504 SOS
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 9, 2016 at 5:11 pm

I should clarify that I am not addressing your point because I have no experience at all with your experience. But the fact that you think the disruptive experience you relay is representative of special ed students in total, is a little disturbing. Special ed currently is a broad umbrella that includes 504 students who may not have learning disabilities at all but nevertheless need accommodations to attend school and get the same education. These disabilities are accommodated through 504 plans. 504 students (who may have no learning disability at issue, but rather, need other kinds of accommodations that you don't ever see, such as the ability to take insulin during the day) should not be handled by special ed. It's a disaster.

In reviewing the special ed depart,ent, it was a totally wrong omission to fail to deal with 504 problems. If the 504 students were in the inclusion data, but not otherwise dealt with, then that is an improper use of the data, and yet another failure to support 504 students.

@Dennis, you may be right about your experience, but the disruption speaks more to the disability being inadequately accommodated. I ahould think you would be supportive then of efforts to reform special ed, so that it works and we don't wasre money on too many overpaid chiefs and not enough braves.

1 person likes this
Posted by PAUSD ASD Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2016 at 5:31 pm

[Post removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by Clean up
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2016 at 11:04 pm

Thank you Palo Alto for this article.
Dear Dennis, not sure if your are clueless, heartless, or ignorant but I hope with opportunities to interact with special needs kids and parents, you will show more thoughtful and generous comments in the future. I hope your kids who interact w spec ed students think differently than you!
The truth is the spec ed department is about dollars and cost saving and unfortunately lies and dodging the questions/delaying services. If they provided support you wouldn't see students fail, be distruptive, and teachers experience no support. Spec ed would rather deal with attorney fees thank pay teachers and support students.
Parents, you are wasting time thinking spec ed will give you things, follow logic, and support you. Count how many times dir of spec ed tells you they want to collaborate and gain trust. Then count their actions.

25 people like this
Posted by Floored
a resident of Addison School
on Dec 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm

I was absolutely stunned when, in a meeting with my child's first grade teacher, the principal and the IEP teacher, the teacher totally lost it.

She was explaining how my child was incapable of learning even after she repeated things to him ten times or more. She slammed her binder and books down on the conference table and stormed out!

This teacher didn't even give me a chance to explain that my child did not breathe for nearly eight minutes after birth, had some mild brain damage as a result, and was deaf in one ear!

Two weeks later, my child was transferred to a new class with a tentative hired teacher whose English was not the best. He couldn't understand what she said, so her response was to load him down with so much homework that mat age 6, my child was doing homework from 3:30 until 9:00, with a break for dinner!

This silly woman tried to change the way he spelled his last name, told the class that Lincoln was the third president ( he was 16rh), and other false information!

Then, claiming he couldn't read she had my child held back in first grade an extra year, something he never really recovered from. Any confidence was gone, he was humiliated.

That summer we went to the library almost daily, and I could see that he could read-- he just hated what he thought were pointless, plotless readers the district required!

12 people like this
Posted by routines
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 10, 2016 at 3:39 pm

A little consistency would go a long way in helping my child. A different time for lunch every day? And now a fourth schedule in as many years?! He has to be glued to his phone (which we discourage) just to know where he needs to be.

13 people like this
Posted by Gunn high parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2016 at 11:39 pm

I am a parent of two boys on the autism spectrum, so have quite a lot of experience, both good and bad, dealing with the special education department.

My older son had a 504 plan, which was a waste of time. No funding, educational help, or requirement that teachers actually comply; vague goals, such as "more time on tests/homework", and a study skills class that did not really teach any skills. He graduated 10 years ago, so perhaps that program has changed, but from comments on this board, it seems just as ineffective. There was little attention to students' emotional issues and he is still struggling with depression and lack of direction, as do some of his friends from Gunn. High functioning children on the autism spectrum especially have often fallen through the tracks, because their issues are not academic and don't show up till later in high school. I believe that a more concerted effort at identifying and working with them at a younger age can make a real difference later.

My younger son is currently at Gunn with an IEP, after spending almost half of his school years in non-public schools. I was surprised the report gave a high grade to the district on inclusion. While that may be for students without behavioral issues, and Gunn has done a lot on that front since he returned to the district, it certainly was not the case before he trasferred out years ago. I fully realize how It is hard to integrate s kids with behavior problems, and a separate setting does allow both them and the other students to study effectively. But I felt that the district was too quick to ship off these students to more restrictive schools, and wash their hands off (except for funding), with an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude.
I have been told by friends that this is a one way street, and it's true - the students sent to the non-public schools rarely if ever succeed integrating back to the district, even when the issues that caused the placement out have been overcome. The non public schools serve student population from all over the county, and students suffer from multiple issues, such as mental health, learning differences, and cognitive. Naturally these schools are not able to provide the same academic rigor and opportunities that will allow our students to integrate back into the PAUSD schools successfully. I believe this is where the district must take an active role to ensure that students who are capable academically, not fall behind just because they are temporarily referred elsewhere.
I am blessed with a wonderful case manager at Gunn, and most (though not all) teachers are willing to make an effort to accommodate. Even so, it has been an uphill struggle, and we are fighting against the odds. None of the students I know who come back to the district graduate from PAUSD, and this seems the norm. You can't make up years of less rigorous learning and expect the student to just jump in. Had the district stayed involved with the transfer students education, provide the necessary academic and social enrichment, and provide time to make up the missed material, many more would have been able to come back and to integrate successfully and graduate.

19 people like this
Posted by Dr. Alexander
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2016 at 1:31 am

Crescent Park and Duveneck Elementary Schools, JLS and Paly

Dear Neighbors,

In 1979 when I started kindergarten at Crescent Park Elementary School, my parents were specifically and directly told by PAUSD, and by Crescent Park teachers and administrators, that "We do not take 'Special Education children' into the 'Gifted Program.'"

I am most fortunate and always thankful, still to this day, for the empathy and stamina of my mother when she rallied for me, a five-year-old kindergartner. It so happened that PAUSD and Crescent Park Elementary did take this "Special Education" student into their "Gifted Program" in 1979. That was my early introduction to PAUSD, as well as an unintentional introduction to institutional prejudice.

This prejudicial behavior by PAUSD was spun positively by my parents with great grace. It was my mom and dad who turned this verbalized prejudice into a subtle life lesson of how perseverance and resilience can lead to life-long success. As Mrs. Elkins always said to each and every fourth grade pupil of hers, "There is no failure, except in no longer trying."

In sum, I empathize with today's PAUSD parents who continue to step up and tirelessly advocate for inclusive, equal, and fair access to education for their children.

Dr. Alexander

6 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 11, 2016 at 8:16 am

Don't ignore the real need of average student!

Don't overdo!

6 people like this
Posted by Get Involved
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2016 at 6:35 pm

I encourage you to Get Involved. Go to the Board meetings. Go to the Meeting on the 13th. Show up. And, if it's not on the Board Agenda, you can speak in Open Forum. This is a good place to vent, but you can't make changes here.
Get Involved.

12 people like this
Posted by 504 SOS
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 12, 2016 at 9:46 am

I wish everyone who hasn't already been involved and been broken and scarred by it much better luck with it than those of us who have already tried. At least here, we can say the truth and it might be heard, and we can say it without the certainty of retaliation. The real problem is that there is no pathway to replacing key employees who are the real problem, or changing the administrative culture absent that, no matter the involvement. At least if the Weekly hears from us, they will keep an eye on this issue. The district on the other hand would love nothing better than to hammer down the nails that stick out and bury all the problems under yet more window dressing.

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Posted by Resident11
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 12, 2016 at 10:53 am

Resident11 is a registered user.

Where can we find a link to this report?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2016 at 12:50 pm

This link Web Link goes to the Board memo summarizing the report. The report itself, and a couple other documents, are attached at the bottom of the memo.

6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2017 at 11:45 am

Perhaps it was coincidental, but, from my vantage point, Special Ed in the district nosedived when Carol Zepecki left at the end of 2009-2010. (followed by several other skilled and caring special ed staff.) Coincidentally, it seemed like the only thing that mattered for a while after that were standardized test scores and the number of AP classes taken by seniors.

Every student deserves an education appropriate for them, whether they are a future rocket scientist, or, waiter.

6 people like this
Posted by More Cuts
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 21, 2017 at 12:39 pm

It seems that Special Ed gets cut back whenever there are budget cuts, for whatever reason.

They don't tell parents this outright, but they simply start mainstreaming kids out of Special Ed and into General Ed, whether they are ready or not ( and they never are).

A year later, there will be complaints about falling test scores! It is simply because learning disabled children are now taking tests alongside the general ed kids!

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Posted by Time to leave PAUSD
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2017 at 2:13 am

Get the word out - if you have special needs child: Do not come to Palo Alto. The worst place in Silicon Valley for your child. They may never recover.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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