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The purpose of this rolling investigation was to get you, the community, talking about San Diego Unified School District’s shift towards fully including children with special needs in general education classrooms.

I think it’s safe to say that worked.

We’ve had dozens of comments on the posts I’ve written so far and I’ve received more than 100 emails from readers wanting to get involved. Thanks so much to everyone who has participated.

We’re using all these comments to guide and inform our reporting throughout the series, which is far from finished.

For now, though, I’d like to highlight some of the comments that have caught my eye in the last week or so. Most of these appeared on the post I wrote about general education teachers becoming special education teachers almost overnight, in which I pointed out that general education teachers at the district are not required to undertake any training in special education, despite the requirement that they now teach children with special needs.

I’ve divided the comments up by subject matter and pulled out some interesting tidbits from each one. On occasion, I’ve paraphrased the commenter’s introduction to the statement.

On How San Diego Unified Has Gone About Its Paradigm Shift

Our only comment from the school board so far came from trustee Scott Barnett, who said that since joining the board he had “learned much more about an issue I knew almost nothing about.”

While I agree there are many challenges to the policy of “inclusion” I believe that in most cases it is still the best policy for special education children, as well as all other kids. My two daughters, who are now in high school, have interacted with children who were essentially “hidden” away for generations of students.

In my own comment, I asked Barnett if the board plans to mandate that general education teachers receive training in special education techniques, but I haven’t heard from him yet.

Allison Brenneise echoed what I’ve heard several times about the district’s model for inclusion.

The process was supposed to happen over several years, not overnight but this is not how the old special education director went about this change.

Moira Allbritton and Leslie Gollub, who co-authored a comment, stood up for the district’s policy shift. I’ve talked to Allbritton a couple of times, and she argues passionately that inclusion is a moral issue, a question of civil rights.

Her comment struck a similar note:

All members of a society suffer when it isolates, dehumanizes, and stereotypes a subset of its population. Examples that come to mind include the Holocaust, the segregation of people of color, and the institutionalization of persons with developmental disabilities. These injustices were ‘justified’ by those in power in the name of safety, efficiency, cost, necessity, or uniformity.

The comment continued:

In the nearly 40-years since these United States mandated that a free, appropriate public education be provided to children with disabilities, it is disheartening to be battling subtle and not-so-subtle prejudice.

Commenter Jill Heller, however, thought Allbritton and Gollub had gone too far. The mother of a child with special needs, Heller wrote that she doesn’t believe inclusion works for all children with disabilities, and that students are too often placed in general education classes without proper support.

She added:

I will also say, as a Jew, and the grandchild of survivors of the Holocaust, that the invoking of the Holocaust as somehow equal to whats happening in SDUSD is offensive.

Other readers were less concerned with discussing whether inclusion is the right moral thing to do and wanted to assess the job the district has done making its change.

On that subject, there was little sympathy or praise for the way the district’s new approach has been rolled out. Rob Sanchez typified the mood.

Teacher’s plates are full trying to find right curriculum and teaching methodology that will address the needs of her students. Districts need to do a better job of long range planning and implementing those plans in an organized fashion rather than changing constantly and never finishing anything leaving teachers to pick up their mess.

Stephen Rosen had more harsh words for the district, but also offered some hope:

As is clear to me – the system is broken, the way special education children are handled is not only problematic for them, but, for almost everybody else and, it needs to be fixed and fixed it can be with the proper organization and budgeting.

On Suspicion the Shift Is Really About Saving Money

Several commenters, and several of the sources I’ve interviewed, have made the claim that the district’s move towards inclusion is really about saving money.

I’m not convinced that’s the case. I’m yet to hear any convincing arguments or see any data to back up that claim. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of evidence that this was a clear attempt to address an issue the district was concerned with: That too many students were being segregated in separate special education classes.

Money is certainly a big part of this debate, however, and many of the problems teachers and parents are detailing could at least be mitigated by more funding. More money would mean more teachers, better training and more time for individual teachers to prepare and plan for lessons, all of which are concerns I’ve heard about the current delivery of special education.

Elizabeth Cullen, who’s been very active in the comments, put this suspicion most starkly. She wrote:

All of this is bullshit designed to save money.

Mike Hall agreed:

San Diego Unified always makes these shifts to save money regardless of the claims toward inclusion they may make. When parents start taking the district to court and fair hearings over these violations, the taxpayer will pay and the students who have lost appropriate learning opportunities (general and special) will lose again.

On Training

There was also some discussion in the comments section about whether mandating special education training for general education teachers would make much difference in the real world of the classroom. A couple of teachers said they didn’t think so.

Here’s Dennis Schamp:

The district could require me to attend workshops and training … and that would be fine. But it wouldn’t be enough to make me officially credentialed in Special Ed. You can’t cram 18 months of college education into 3-4 8-hour training sessions.

Rhonda Browning agreed.

You cannot train a special education teacher with a few seminars. Special education is a specialized field that educates children who are more challenging than the average child. Only a few teachers can do it. It is a calling to educate the kids no one else wants.

I’ve found this discussion fascinating. Please keep your comments, emails and calls coming. And if you haven’t gotten involved yet, we’d still like to hear from you.

Thanks again.

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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