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Training materials from the San Diego County Office of Education have sparked a complaint from a local parent who said the training was “ridiculous and inflammatory” and would encourage schools to discriminate against families of special education students.

Down Syndrome Association of San Diego President-elect Jackie Husson sent a complaint about the presentation to the state superintendent of public instruction. She reproduced slides from the presentation that said “special education is stealing money from general education,” and that school districts identify students as disabled to get more money. Husson said handouts from the meeting, reproduced in her letter, depict parents as ignorant and unreasonable, belittling their concerns, and delegitimize their requests for more services as selfishly gaming the system.

One such handout reproduced by Husson gives examples of parents making unreasonable demands for expensive speech therapy for their children, such as saying, “My child has no friends. I want more speech therapy.” Another posited that parents who had heard about a vagus nerve stimulator, an implant that prevents seizures, might erroneously demand a “vaginal nerve stimulator” for their son.

She felt the example mocked parents as ignorant and their requests as silly.

“The absolute disrespect, prejudice and discriminatory tone this promotes goes beyond the bounds of unprofessional conduct into the realm of indecency,” Husson wrote. “It was and is disgusting.”

County Office of Education spokesman Jim Esterbrooks could not immediately confirm that the slides reproduced by Husson were used in a presentation. Two key County Office of Education officials who oversee business services and special education are out of town. Esterbrooks expressed surprise at the slide that supposedly read, “Special Education is Stealing Money from General Education.”

“I can’t imagine that slide in a presentation,” he said.

The cost of funding special education has been an ongoing issue for school districts, which are legally required to provide services to students with disabilities, and debates over what services are appropriate or necessary are often heated. The nascent research on many disabilities and how they operate can make it challenging to say definitively what a child would need.

In some cases, students whose needs cannot be met by the public school system are sent to privately run schools and their tuition is paid for with public funding, such as Pioneer Day School in Pacific Beach, which we wrote about last fall.

The issue is not new to Husson, who filed a similar complaint with the federal Office of Special Education Programs four years ago about another special education training developed for use by the California Department of Education that she said referred to the “Disneyland Theory,” by which parents would clamor to get into special education so that all their demands would be met. The training was subsequently amended.

“This is just a new chapter in the same book,” Husson said.

Esterbrooks said he would find out more about the presentation today.

EMILY ALPERT

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