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Parents and Teachers Plan Rally to Save Special Education Centers

Brianna Sacks | July 23, 2013

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A special education parent protests outside LAUSD headquarters/ Brianna Sacks

A special education parent protests outside LAUSD headquarters/ Brianna Sacks

A group of parents and teachers plans to picket the office of school board member Tamar Galatzan on Wednesday to protest LA Unified’s compliance with federal and state laws to move special needs students into general education settings.

The group, Parents and Teachers United for Action, says that by moving special education students from centers they now attend would deny them care and resources they need.

The group contends that Galaztan has been consistently supportive of the moves even though the board played no role in the legal rulings.

According to United Teachers of Los Angeles, thousands of students from special education centers have been moved into regular campuses over the past few years, and four centers have closed.

Sharyn Howell, executive director of the LAUSD Division of Special Education, said the  the district must comply with laws aimed at giving special education students the same experiences and learning opportunities as other public school children.

She said that among the nearly 83,000 special education students in the district, most are already attending regular public schools in their own classrooms. About 2,600 students are still in the remaining 14 special education centers across the district.

Four of the centers are located in Galatzan’s district. She declined a request to comment, and her chief of staff, Hilary MacGregor, told LA School Report that she has no idea why protesters have chosen their district for picketing.

Howell said she believes the protesters chose the location because many parents of the special education students attend centers in the area.

Phillip Murphy, a teacher at Sophia T. Salvin Special Education Center in downtown who plans to join the protest, said special education centers are vital for moderately to severely developmentally delayed students.

“There is a good reason to put as many kids with special needs on regular campuses that can handle it,” he said. “But the fact is that most kids who go to special centers wouldn’t make it on a normal campus.”

Murphy, who has worked at Salvin for more than 14 years, said he has some students who are 10 years old but have developed only to the level of a toddler and require constant attention. These students, he said, would not fare well in a traditional learning environment.

“The reason these centers are here is because many of these students were getting teased and mistreated at regular schools,” Murphy said. “They can be targets.”

He also argued that many regular campuses don’t have the facilities and staff in place to support these students. “Here at Salvin,” he said, “we have two full time nurses because students may need medication or help.”

Howell disputed Murphy’s claim, insisting that laws require the district to have sufficient resources to serve special education children in regular public schools.

“There are enough resources for these students across the district because over the years we have been increasingly serving special education students on regular campuses,” she said.

The protest group is also arguing that parents should have the option to educate their children in separate centers, and if they are denied, the centers would close from disuse.

However, Howell says these centers have a long history. Many were opened in the 1970s when special education students were completely segregated, and the district has been working to move away from that system.

“I understand parents’ anxiety and concerns about this because many of their children have been in these centers for a long time,” said Howell. “I want to assure them that we can support their children in a safe environment but also give them an opportunity to be around other children.”

But Murphy said his school used to get special education students who left regular campuses because they were not receiving the proper care or education they needed, or were getting teased.

That number has dwindled since the district is pushing for students to remain on traditional campuses.

“It’s not in the best interest for these students,” said Murphy. “They are safe in these centers.”

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