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Here is a bizarre point that emerged this morning in a San Diego Unified school board discussion of how to reform special education: Schools do not count kids with disabilities when calculating how many vice principals, secretaries or other clerical staffers they need.

The practice is left over from the days when schools got designated staffers for students with disabilities. Those jobs have fallen by the wayside due to a combination of budget cuts and the desire to integrate special education back into neighborhood schools instead of ghettoizing it as a separate institution.

That means that schools with high numbers of special education students actually suffer when it comes to getting enough vice principals and office staffers. Chief Student Services Officer Arun Ramanathan wants schools to start counting them, both as a symbolic gesture that shows that special education is part of every school and a practical effort to get more resources to students.

The issue came up during a lengthy discussion today of how to fix special education, an Achilles heel for San Diego Unified. Scores for students with disabilities have scarcely budged in years, widening the achievement gap between kids with disabilities and their non-disabled classmates. A study was undertaken last year by Harvard researcher Thomas Hehir that identified several key problems, including the over-identification of black students as emotionally disturbed and tracking students to not receive diplomas.

EMILY ALPERT

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