Facing criticism from parents over the decision to house students in the Adult Transition Program (ATP) in two portable classrooms on the new Earl Warren Middle School campus, the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) invited parents to tour the facility and participate in a special meeting July 28 on the campus.
In response to feedback received, the district informed ATP parents on Aug. 1 that the entire program will be moved to La Costa Canyon High School (LCC) for the coming school year.
For over two hours on July 28, SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill listened and responded to a group of frustrated parents. Some parents wanted an apology from the district and others did not, instead wanting answers to their questions and an assurance from the district that their children were a priority and that their concerns were truly being heard.
“I know that some promises were made for involvement on the planning of that classroom and we didn’t deliver on that promise and I think that’s led to a lot of the concerns,” Dill said at the meeting. “There were promises of more involvement and we didn’t do that and I’m sorry for that.”
In his Aug. 1 letter to parents, Dill apologized again for “the disappointment and frustration many of you have shared with us.”
“My hope is that this message will provide more certainty for our families as we work collaboratively to establish a trusting and productive relationship and to support our students’ success,” Dill wrote.
One alternative presented on July 28 had been to split the program between the Earl Warren portables and one room at LCC. At parents’ urging, the district identified three classrooms at La Costa Canyon for the ATP program to use; three general purpose classrooms, connected by a workroom, and next to two accessible restrooms. Dill said there are some trade-offs with the LCC location, as it is in Carlsbad so it is not as centrally located as Earl Warren in Solana Beach, and there is little public transportation and fewer community amenities.
“We believe this satisfies three of the frequent requests we heard on Friday – move the program away from a middle school, place the program in permanent classrooms, and keep the students together,” Dill said.
According to Dill, long-term plans for ATP, a stand-alone, specialized, four-year program for special education students ages 18-22, will include the construction of a permanent home, possibly at the Sunset High School campus in Encinitas or bringing the program to a community college such as Mira Costa.
At the July 28 meeting, parent Lucile Lynch thanked Dill for the opportunity for parents to share their concerns.
Many parents voiced frustration that it seemed like the district was just now learning about their many concerns when they felt like they have been vocal for a long time. Over the last few years, parents of students with disabilities have spoken out several times — resulting in the formation of a special education parent forum in the summer of 2016. The forum met several times over the last year but member Lynch said that despite some parent input, their message was not properly communicated to the district.
Parents also say they were misled about the ATP facilities— a floor plan for the facility was shared in fall 2016 and parents asked if they could provide input and were assured they would be able to at a later date, Lynch said. A time to provide input never came, not until May when parents first toured the portables, which many believed to be “separate and unequal” facilities in juxtaposition with the new middle school campus.
“I think you have to flat-out admit that the mentality of our district for the last 10 years has been that ATP is just an afterthought,” said parent Mary Beyer. “We’ve just been put to the side and never given the same consideration as other students, whether it’s classrooms or curriculum. That’s how I see it. If the district doesn’t change its mentality it will all be the same.
“Our kids are important and our kids matter. Our parent group cares about our kids and the future that they have.”
“Absolutely, that’s not my mentality to treat any of our programs as an afterthought,” Dill responded.
Parents also wanted accountability for what they felt was a breakdown in planning and suggested someone should be fired for not doing their job. Dill shouldered the responsibility for former special education director Chuck Adams, who is now an assistant principal in the district. There is currently no director of special education and Meredith Wadley, the new director of school and student services, is now leading the program.
“I’m sick to my stomach with some of the stuff that has happened to you,” Wadley, near tears, told the parents. “I just want to move forward and just want to make this right for the kids.”
One parent pointed out, however, that the parents’ concerns are far bigger than just the portables. In June parents of special education students handed over a 41-page petition to the district outlining the many ways they hope the district can reform a “broken” special education program, calling out “inadequate” curriculum and too low expectations in addition to the lack of equal treatment in facilities planning, not being included in Prop AA funding or planning.
Wadley said that the district needs to develop a strategic plan for special education overall — she said it is a lofty goal but her goal is to get it done. Like Wadley and Dill, the two SDUHSD board members present, Amy Herman and Mo Muir, also stated their commitment to concentrating on the ATP program and finding solutions.
In her comments, Lynch advocated for a special education oversight committee to ensure public noticing, public input and board reporting. Muir pushed for establishing the standing special education committee to be put on a future board agenda and a special meeting was called on Aug. 2 for the board to consider the formation of the task force.
According to Dill’s message to ATP parents, the purpose of the task force will be to engage in a long-term strategic planning process for special education services. The meetings of the group will include formal agendas and be publicly noticed with a planned sequence of topics to work through over the course of the school year. The task force work would result in recommendations in the spring for implementation beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
Some of the topics to be discussed would include alignment of curriculum with California standards, post-secondary transition, parent outreach and engagement, career pathways and electives, community partnerships and engagement, professional development for certificated and classified staff, developing independence, equity and inclusion, and facilities issues.
“The task force will review and make recommendations regarding facilities for our specialized programs to ensure a cohesive long-term facilities plan for these programs,” Dill wrote. “ As part of this, the task force will evaluate and recommend options for permanent placement of the ATP classrooms.”