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Calling all parents of children with special needs in San Diego Unified School District, special education teachers and parents.

I need some help figuring out how the school district transitioned thousands of children out of separate special education classes and into general education classes while still honoring the legal agreements it had drawn up with parents.

At the heart of the education of every child with special needs is a personalized agreement between the district and the parents called an individualized education program, which people generally just call an IEP.

The program is like a blueprint for a child’s education, spelling out how they have progressed and what areas they still need extra support in. Importantly, it spells out, in detail, the teaching environment that the child should be placed in and details how much extra support the student needs in order to meet his or her learning goals.

Periodically, teachers, parents and education specialists at a school hold meetings to discuss the child’s learning goals and to make sure the child is educated in the best environment for them. Parents can also ask for meetings to be held whenever they feel their child’s education needs to be re-assessed. The golden rule of this system is that no change should be made to a child’s education without the parents first approving it.

So, here’s the thing:

Prior to about September 2008, many of the children with disabilities at the district were taught in separate special education classes, known as “special day classes.”

The plans for those children must have defined that the best place for them to learn was a separate special education classroom. That was what the parents, teachers and specialists had agreed was the best learning environment for those kids.

But I know that hundreds, if not thousands, of children at the district were, after September 2008, transitioned out of those separate classes and into general education classrooms. The phasing out of those special education classes was a big part of the paradigm shift that I’ve spent the last few weeks investigating and writing about.

What I’m trying to figure out is: How could the school district do that, given that those children’s program documents said they should be taught in a separate, special education environment?

My understanding is that an effort was made in 2008 to inform parents that the district was undergoing a shift in special education. I’ve seen two letters that were sent out to parents to explain how the district would be changing the terminology used in its agreements with students and would be expanding the opportunities for teaching children with disabilities.

But I want to talk to parents whose children went through this process and the teachers and principals who re-wrote those individualized education program documents. How was this explained to parents and students?

Were parents told that the re-written agreements would mean that their children could and would be placed in general education settings?

And are there any parents out there who didn’t have meetings to discuss this shift, but who simply found out at the beginning of the school year that their child had been placed in a general education classroom?

This is all part of establishing how the district went about making its sea change in special education.

The individualized education program meeting process is designed to put parents in control. The theory is that no child’s education should be unilaterally changed by a school or a school district without the parent first approving it.

Given the large numbers of students who were shifted to new settings in this transition, I’d like to know how the school district went about getting that approval from parents.

Please get in touch. Remember, you can leave a comment on this blog, call me at 619.550.5670, email me or send me messages on Twitter or Facebook.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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