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San Diego Schools Slow To Improve Planning For Special Education Students’ Futures

Aired 10/22/13 on KPBS News.

For years, San Diego Unified has been out of compliance with federal requirements for students in special education.

— Public school students who are 16 or older and in special education are supposed to have individual plans to prepare them for college or a career after high school. San Diego Unified trustees will hear a report Tuesday night that the district has been out of step with this federal requirement for years.

Three years ago, a state report showed out of about 3,400 students, not one had a plan that met federal guidelines. Since then, the district hasn’t shown much progress in meeting those federal requirements to develop college, career or independent living transition plans for its students in special education.

Christy Scadden, chair of the district’s special education advisory committee, has brought concerns about the lack of transition plans to the board of education before. Last year advisory committee members met with district staff through the school year to keep track of efforts to get up to speed with the transition plans but their concerns were left largely unaddressed.

“They had gone in and done training with all of the high schools," Scadden said of the year's results. "And at the end they pulled 10 sample transition plans from each school – so 160 total. And they found that only two out of 160 were compliant.”

But those results came at the end of year one of the school district's three-year plan to get to the point of complying with the federal requirements, according to Sonia Picos, San Diego Unified's interim director of special education.

Student transition plans have to fulfill eight requirements to comply with federal guidelines. But Picos said if one requirement is missed, the whole plan is counted as out of compliance.

The end of year results "showed some progress on certain components," Picos said, "and gave us insight into what further professional development is needed."

There is a sense of urgency in the district to make sure students are getting what they're guaranteed, she said. But it's important to make sure in additional to checking off boxes, the transition plans are high-quality and increase student success.

Scadden said she appreciates that there is a plan in place, but that doesn't help students who turn 16 this year or who are already 16: They'll miss the opportunity to map out explicit goals for life after high school and get support to reach them.

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