The school board will discuss Tuesday a staff request to allocate $2.4 million to improve the district's special-education services and address areas in which the department is out of compliance.
District staff are asking for more specialists, psychologists and site-based special education coordinators and to expand services and programs that serve students with special needs.
Parent-advocates have long been pushing for special-education reform, with stalled progress. The district launched this year an internal review and conducted parent and staff surveys to evaluate the state of special-education services and identify the top areas of need.
Yolanda Conaway, the district's new assistant superintendent of strategic initiatives, told the school board at a budget study session on Wednesday, May 16, that there is "clearly insufficient support for staff and equally insufficient support for students" in special education, causing issues with legal compliance. She described increasing special-education caseloads, particularly at the elementary schools, that leave teachers with less time to work directly with students.
The funding requests are meant to build stronger support systems at schools, she said, moving the "expectation of the support from the district office to the school site."
The budget requests are:
- Four full-time education specialists at the elementary schools to reduce caseloads and allow for more direct services.
- Four full-time behavior intervention support staff members at the elementary level to address a "high number of referrals" for behavioral issues. (Last May, the board allocated $63,000 for an additional behavioral specialist to serve the elementary schools.)
- One full-time staff member and one aide to open a learning center at Duveneck Elementary School, which will relieve impacted learning centers at nearby elementary schools and maintain small class sizes for students who require "more intensive support."
- Two full-time program specialists to provide coaching for teachers and "compliance support" at the elementary schools.
- A part-time adaptive physical education teacher to allow students with special needs to participate in PE classes.
- Two full-time site-based coordinators, one at each high school, to ensure "program quality and compliance." (Currently three coordinators support all district campuses.)
- One full-time staff member to create an on-site therapeutic program at Gunn High School for students with significant mental health and social-emotional needs.
- One full-time staff member to expand Palo Alto High School's Futures Program for students with moderate to severe disabilities.
- Two full-time staff to expand school-based mental health services for special-education students.
- Two full-time school psychologists. (There are currently about 18 across the district.)
Staff are proposing to spread out the cost of these additions over two years.
Conaway said that the budget requests are the first step toward closing gaps in the system.
"We have a structure that does not support a high-quality program," she told the board on May 16.
A survey of parents of students with disabilities found they were generally satisfied with staffs' response to their children's needs. Of about 1,750 parents who responded, just over 70 percent said they feel supported by the district's special-education team. Higher percentages of socioeconomically disadvantaged families and families who speak another language at home reported higher satisfaction at meetings about their children's individualized education plans.
However, the survey indicates some gaps within the system. Less than half of the parent respondents said they always receive a report with their children's progress on the goals written into their individualized education plan at each progress report period.
There appears to be inconsistency in how schools handle special-education needs: only 44 percent of staff respondents agreed that there are common practices across sites.
Only half of staff agreed that the district has a clear vision on special education, compared to 68 percent of parents. Half of staff said the district allocates resources properly to support that vision.
Staff also indicated they need more training to support students with disabilities.
In other business Tuesday, the board will hear an update on the implementation of new social-emotional learning curriculum. The district is aiming to expand new programs at the high schools and introduce curriculum at the middle and elementary schools next year.
Board members will also discuss a committee's recommendation to make computer science a core subject in the district, including adding it as a high school graduation requirement and creating a K-12 computer science department.
The school board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 22, at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.