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What Parents Of Students With Special Needs Can Expect Under San Diego Unified Cuts

Parents and educators grab t-shirts and signs before heading into a San Diego...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Parents and educators grab t-shirts and signs before heading into a San Diego Unified School Board meeting to speak out against proposed budget cuts, Feb. 21, 2017.

The San Diego Unified School District says it will still meet the needs of students with disabilities despite layoffs aimed at cutting $124 million from the budget next year.

Several San Diego Unified employees spoke out at Tuesday’s board meeting against layoffs proposed as part of a plan to cut $124 million from next year’s budget. They included occupational therapy assistants, who help children with special needs develop motor skills and perform daily tasks, and special education assistants and technicians at dozens of school sites.

Executive Director of Special Education Deann Ragsdale said Friday the district carefully reviewed the individual education plans — or IEPs — of its students before making the cuts. The plans lay out which services a student needs.

“We continue to have the IEPs of the students as our center focus and know that with the staffing levels that are budgeted, we can meet the needs of students,” she said.

The district plans to lay off 10 occupational therapy assistants, leaving 25 among its ranks. Ragsdale said individual school sites chose to eliminate special education assistants and technicians based on reduced budgets and need.

Francisca Salcedo has a son with autism. She said she worries about the ripple effect of cuts in other areas — like playground supervision — will have. The district has proposed cutting a third of its noon duty assistants, as well as vice principals.

“It’ll mean there will be less personnel to supervise our students and for students who have a disability, this is even more of a concern,” said Salcedo, who worries about her son wandering off or having behavioral problems mismanaged due to a lack of staff.

“We have 15,000 little teams of people that are all unique,” said Moira Allbritton, chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, referring to the teachers, staff and parents who decide together what goes into an IEP. “These decisions are supposed to be honored, not cost-driven. My biggest fear is that their decisions will not be honored and that there would be tacit pressure on those teams to minimize services offered.”

Superintendent Cindy Marten said that wouldn’t happen under her watch. She has a personal stake in the matter — her brother has developmental disabilities.

“Understanding the importance, not just of the legal mandate required in IEPs, but the moral imperative to assure that each and every one of our students with special needs has all of their needs met and served through our system, the services will absolutely be there,” Marten said.

Other cuts could come from the consolidation of under-enrolled classes for students with moderate to severe disabilities. About 200 students will have to switch schools as a result. And Marcy School, a separate campus for students with more challenging disabilities, will be relocated to Clairemont High School.

Parents at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern these students would have trouble with the move, especially to a campus grappling with other budget cuts.

The district said the decisions were about quality, not cost. Students in these programs were too isolated from the general school population.

An early retirement program could eliminate the need for cuts to special education support services and other areas. Nonetheless, the board will vote Tuesday on whether to move forward with pink slips.

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