AFTER READING a May 24 article in the Times titled "Mt. Diablo to take another look at budget plans," I felt compelled to respond.
I was taken aback by the comments and concerns voiced in this article by Board President Gary Eberhart regarding the need to improve the ELL programs so that this population of students can become English proficient quickly and are not "missing out on the rest of their education."
Eberhart also stated that if "you're not educating a (ELL) student well enough," this could be considered "institutional racism." However, let me point out that proposed cuts in special education are, in fact, "institutional discrimination" against our children who learn differently than the average student.
Services for the special education population are provided for under law similarly to the English Language Learners. Of course, the Board of Education knows this. However, many of its actions do not reflect this, and I take great offense to messages coming from board members that the special education population is costing the district too much money.
As a site council member at various schools for many years, I don't ever recall cuts to budget dollars set aside for ELL programs, yet our school site councils have been forced to improve the education of other students' segments with smaller budgets.
In fact, funds have had to be redirected to pay for campus psych services so that special education students could have adequate support and assessment. These are essential services required by law that the district no longer funds.
You might find it interesting to know that when our son, who is not an English Language Learner, was in third grade, we requested that he participate in the daily ELL small-group instruction that took place each morning because appropriate math and language arts instruction was not available.
Was he a victim of "institutional discrimination?"
Either way, we were looking for the best learning environment for him, and we were pleased that he was benefiting from the slower-paced curriculum that was not available anywhere else on campus.
In fourth grade, he was placed in a full-time special education classroom because the collaborative classroom model had not yet been established. He received no reading intervention, was limited to first-grade level math instruction, and was not given the opportunity to participate in field trips with the other fourth-grade students.
In retrospect, this one school year had the most devastating effects on our son, both educationally and emotionally. The improvements made in the district since then have been important to him and countless other students.
However, I'm afraid that the board is not being careful in maintaining and protecting the services and programs that have been diligently planned and expensive to develop. Now that is a waste of too much money.
The purpose of special education is to even the playing field and to ensure that students with disabilities have beneficial access to educational services.
Eberhart desires the ELL student to become proficient in English so that he or she can fully participate in the educational system. At the same time, the board is taking away support and programs that will limit the opportunities for the special education student to have the least restrictive environment in which to participate in the educational system.
Mt. Diablo Unified School District has spent much time, effort and money in improving its special education programs (thanks in part to the Spieler v. Mt. Diablo consent decree). The $20 million spent over 10 years did many things including the integration of special education children into all educational and social programs and the creation of a program to train classroom teachers and aides to assist children with disabilities so that they could participate collaboratively with their peers.
I consider those dollars wasted as these programs are being cut, scaled back and compromised by budget cuts. Trained aides are being laid off or their hours have been (or will be) cut making it difficult for the special education student to receive the classroom support he or she needs.
Studies show (as well as that "all important" AYP) that the move toward collaborative teaching for special education has not only benefited the students with IEPs and 504s, but has also provided important support to other low-achieving students in the classroom who struggle and need a little more assistance that cannot always be provided by the teacher.
I am a parent of a high school freshman whose learning environment has been improved by the collaborative services provided under an IEP. Over time and with the great support from his parents, teachers and instructional assistants, our son's need for support has lessened -- the goal of his IEP. However, the most beneficial component of his success has been the collaborative classrooms where he has been able to learn along side his peers.
In fact, not only have the trained instructional assistants been essential, but the typical learners that sit next to him in the collaborative classroom have provided him with social skills, critical thinking, and cooperation.
Without this, my son cannot be educated "well enough" or may be "missing out on the rest of (his) education."
De Ann Jones is a resident of Martinez.