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Parents of children with special needs charge LAUSD limiting services, holding back information

Katie VanArnam | June 11, 2024

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Los Angeles Unified parents of children with special needs say they are facing a backlash after the district tried to remove members of a state panel advocating for improved services for the students. 

The Improving Special Education Resolution, aimed at making services better for special needs children, was proposed by members of the Community Advisory Committee, a panel of about 20 parents, teachers, and community members. Members called for an increase in information available to parents and a wider range of services for students. 

When CAC members proposed the resolution a year ago, the district attempted to remove members advocating for special education, parents charge. Although the attempt did not succeed, parents said the move calls into question the district’s priorities and willingness to work with them.  

“I think that especially under superintendent (Alberto) Carvalho, they are cracking down on attempts to empower families to ask for what they want,” said Ariel Harman-Holmes, CAC chair and parent of a special needs child. “We used to have, as a committee, excellent open communication with…[the district]…now all we get is canned commentary where it’s clear they have a very small number of talking points.”

Carl Petersen, a father and CAC member said he has struggled to to get his daughters the help they need in LAUSD’s special education programs. 

Petersen’s wife visited their daughter’s classroom while preparing for a lawsuit against the school and was disturbed by what she found. 

“Basically, the teacher just put the special ed kids in the back and said, ‘Here, play,’ and taught the class without them. It’s not inclusion just because they were sitting in the same classroom.”

Members of the CAC charge that such challenges have been an ongoing issue and have only gotten worse after the proposed resolution. 

An LAUSD spokesperson declined to comment on the parents’ allegations, referring a reporter to the Office of ADA compliance and the district’s special education plan

The charges come just three years after a lawsuit was brought against LAUSD by parents for neglecting students with disabilities during online learning. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education found that over 66,000 students were affected.

LAUSD rolled out a compensatory plan the following year to provide students with extra services. However, parents are still dissatisfied, with many claiming services promised to their students had yet to be received.

Advocates say resources in the wake of these two events have been increasingly limited, even requiring parents to file Public Records Act requests for basic information, said Harman-Holmes.

Lisa Mosko, a former LAUSD parent, and founder of Speducational, an organization encouraging parents to speak up for their children, said that at a recent meeting she attended a student was denied access to a program she ultimately qualified for. 

After the parents pushed back and hired a lawyer, Mosko said, the child was admitted to the program. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation literally given at IEP’s (Individualized Education Program),” said Mosko. “That parent (had to) now go through due process for her child’s accessibility. It comes down to cost saving…because they know only a certain number of parents will go to due process.” 

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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