City Council 10, School District 0
Late last spring, three parents of children with special needs, appeared before the City Council and described the pain, emotional abuse, isolation and fear that they and their children had suffered as participants in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s special education program.
Their horrifying and heart-breaking stories moved Council members Bob Holbrook, Herb Katz and Bobby Shriver to take immediate action.
They proposed withholding a $520,000 allocation to the District until it conducted an independent study of the special ed program, accepted its findings and complied with and implemented its recommendations.
They also asked the District to declare an immediate moratorium on the confidentiality agreements that parents were required to sign when they negotiated courses of education for their children.
Joined by Councilman Ken Genser, Holbrook, Katz and Shriver approved the course of action on June 12, 2007.
The study went forward and was delivered to the District a couple of weeks ago. It not only confirmed everything the parents had said, it was an indictment of the entire special ed program.
The reaction of the School Board as a whole and the administration has been at best, tentative.
Two weeks ago, the City Council was scheduled to discuss whether the District had fulfilled its part of the bargain, but the discussion was delayed until last night. In the interim, Council members got calls and emails from parents reporting that District officials had violated the moratorium on gag orders and continued to impose them.
Last night, District Superintendent Dianne Talarico began her statement by asking the Council to delay its decision as to when and whether it would release the funds for 30 days, to give her more time to fully respond to the study.
The Council agreed. When asked about the alleged violations of the moratorium, Talarico cited some numbers that were more contusing ed than informative, adding that staff members had assured her that gag orders had only been issued to parents who wanted them.When asked how she would deal with staff members who lied, she said she would apply “progressive discipline.”
As she left the podium, Mayor Katz suggested t that she stay on, to hear the parents’ statements. She said she would stay for a while, but she had “oodles of work to do.”
Among the parents who spoke were a number who, in fact, had had gag orders imposed on them in violation of the moratorium. Other parents had other horror stories to report, including the systematic isolation of their children by other students and some teachers.
School Board President Oscar de la Torre, the only Board member to call for immediate reforms when the study was released, was the last person to speak. and he assured the Council that he would whatever needed to be done to repair and reform the District’s special ed program and end the “culture of of exclusion.”
The emotional session ended on a hopeful, if inconclusive note.
FOOTNOTE: But there is this. Last spring, on hearing from the three parents, the Council acted immediately, and decisively.
In contrast, special ed parents have gone before the School Board at regular intervals for years to report inadequacies and lapses in the special education programs, the ways in which their children were isolated from the general education students, the indifference of some teachers, the bully tactics of some special ed staff members, and so on. And the school board has never taken action, much less decisive action, but has left it to the staff, though staff members, in some cases, were part of the problem.