UPDATED: State clears move of special education students
UPDATED: State clears move of special education students
UPDATED at 4:10 p.m. Tuesday, September 10 to reflect results of state investigation.
Officials with the California Department of Education said Alameda schools officials followed the law when they moved more than a dozen special education students from Will C. Wood Middle School to the new Junior Jets program on the Encinal High School campus this year.
A Wood parent whose 14-year-old son was moved to the new program against his wishes charged that the school district failed to provide him the opportunity to participate in meetings to evaluate an appropriate placement for his son and to provide written notice in advance of the proposed move. But state investigators determined that while the student's physical location changed, the services being provided had not, and that the district had followed the law in making the move.
"Although there was a change in location of the student's classroom to another District school campus, prior written notice was not required as there was no proposal to initiate a change in identification, evaluation, or placement of the child," investigators wrote in a decision received by The Alamedan on Tuesday.
Parent Gregory Tolentino, who authored the complaint, expressed frustration with the district's decision to move his son, Nathaniel, and the changes it imposed on his routine. But he said he didn't plan to appeal the decision.
Susan Mitchell, the district's special education director, said she is happy with the state's decision.
"It is the decision we expected because we were confident that we had complied with the law in this matter," Mitchell said, via the district's spokeswoman.
State schools officials are investigating whether the Alameda Unified School District broke the law when officials there decided to move more than a dozen special education students from Will C. Wood Middle School to the new Junior Jets program on the Encinal High School campus this year.
Gregory Tolentino’s July 22 complaint to the California Department of Education says the district broke the law by failing to provide his family and others with special education students moved from Wood written notice of the planned moves, an opportunity to discuss whether proper supports would be in place for their children to succeed at the new school – or whether the move was an appropriate one at all.
Tolentino said he thinks the school district put its own needs ahead of students’ when district officials decided to move a pair of classes – a class for moderately to severely disabled students and a counseling-enriched special day class – from Wood to make space for the Alameda Community Learning Center this year.
“It is discriminatory to place the needs of the district first, and allow the students with disabilities no say, no process and no opportunity to remedy their change of placement before this occurs,” Tolentino wrote in his complaint letter. His son was one of 13 students who were moved from Wood.
The district’s spokeswoman said district officials couldn’t comment on the complaint since it’s under investigation, but that the district is aware of it and has responded to the state. Tolentino, who had asked the state to stay the move until the dispute is resolved, said he’s expecting to learn the result of the investigation by October 1. (The education department unit investigating the complaint didn’t return a phone call Friday.)
But the spokeswoman, Susan Davis, said it’s not unprecedented for the district to move special education programs – which serve students from all over Alameda – from one site to another.
In an interview, Tolentino said he began attending school board meetings in April to ask whether his son, Nathaniel, 14, and other special education students were going to be moved to another school after hearing rumors from staff that the students would not be on the Wood campus this year. In the complaint, he said that Superintendent Kirsten Vital told him at the first meeting he attended, on April 9, that the students were not being moved and that the rumors were neither confirmed nor denied in subsequent meetings.
Tolentino said that the planned move also never came up in an earlier meeting he had with teachers, special education and administrative staff to update his son’s individualized education program, or IEP, a plan that each of a school district’s disabled students is to receive that details the supports and services that will be provided to help them succeed in school.
According to the complaint, Tolentino was first notified of the district’s plan to move his son at a June 26 meeting that he requested. At that meeting, the complaint says, he was handed a letter dated June 4, 2013 that said his son was being moved into the Junior Jets program and told to sign it.
Tolentino, who said he worked with special education students at schools for 16 years, said the district should have provided prior written notice explaining the rationale for the planned move, and also, an opportunity to talk with a team made up of his son’s teachers, the district’s middle school special education coordinator and administrative staff about whether it met Nathaniel’s needs. He said he also should have been given a chance to dispute the move, which he called “highly stressful and completely inappropriate” for his son.
“And all this came down after the school year ended, offering such families no process or remedy,” he wrote.
In addition to Nathaniel’s sensitivity to disruption – something that Tolentino said was addressed in his son’s earlier IEP, which he had agreed to – he said his son has a history of bolting, which sparked fears he could run from a classroom and into busy Central Avenue. (Tolentino said the classroom his son attends school in is inside Encinal High School, and not in the portables at the exterior of the campus.)
He said the Junior Jets program wanted to conduct an interview with Nathaniel and that he would be required to wear a uniform – both things Tolentino said are not appropriate for his son. And he questioned whether his son should be on the same campus as high school students.
Tolentino said Nathaniel was “a little anxious at first” about going to a new school but that he is slowly getting used to it; he said that when he was told to sign the amendment to his son’s education program, he requested that the move be reviewed after 30 days because he doesn’t think it was a proper placement.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting year.”
Tolentino expressed frustration that the school district decided unilaterally, he said, to move his son to a school that was created to serve as a choice program, and also, with the Board of Education for allowing the student moves to proceed.
“You guys talk about being proactive for a student? You’re not stepping up for us,” Tolentino said of the school board. “All it would have been was a simple phone call. But you don’t have the courage to do that.”