Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dismantling Entitlement: It's Here, It's Now, It's Sad

I began my day with this quote in the Los Angeles Times

"You have to look at it in perspective. When you fund some of the special ed things, you're taking from the regular kids"

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is making drastic cuts to special education which were detailed in an Los Angeles Times story. I read the article and I feel sick to my stomach. I'm angry. I'm sad. I apologize in advance for what is going to be an emotional rant!

I've watched our schools drop funding for PE, Art, Music, nurses (only available a few times a week), janitors (my daughters school doesn't have a janitor!!). Teachers have been laid off by the thousands, class sizes are larger and summer school is only available if you are disabled or failing. I know there is a budget crisis, and there are no easy answers. As clearly as Comcast and NBC's merger signals the beginning of the end for Free TV, the deterioration of our public schools signal the end of entitlements. The end of "LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS" for all. When as a society we no longer give all people access to education, regardless of creed, color, ability or economic status, we are on the decline. We have become a nation where personal greed our desire for more, More, MORE has taken over and it's taken over at any cost. Who cares if budgets are poorly managed, who cares if we waste resources, who cares if those who cannot care for themselves are ignored, what the heck if we dismantle social security or Medicare…as long as big business can report profits and people can point the finger and insist that someone else is responsible for the problem. Who care's about what history has taught us about greed and its perils. Who cares what happens to the world if we loose our middle class. God we just don't get it and I'm scared. Scared about what my daughter will live with. Horrified by how she and her children will be impacted by the BP Gulf oil disaster that will contaminate our food supplies for years to come. Scared about how my children and their children who are being left to find their way in a world that has lost it's compass.

If you are wondering what set me off it was this quote from an article in the LA Times that had the gall to glamorize Special Education Programs! This is going to sound horrible and it is extreme but I found my brain thinking about when the Germans insisted that the “camps” were wonderful places with good food and activities for everyone. Just a illusion created to mask the reality. Yes, there is a school in LA that has worked hard to make the environment for children with severe disabilities a nice place, where they can thrive to the best of their ability. A place that doesn't look or smell like a institution. Instead of praising the work of the people who made this possible, the Los Angeles Times seemingly used this little school to create the illusion that Special Needs Kids were living high on the hog, while other children suffered.

But it was this quote from LA schools superintendent Ramon C. Cortines when responding to the closure of 200 special needs classrooms in LAUSD.

"You have to look at it in perspective. When you fund some of the special ed things, you're taking from the regular kids"

that sent me spinning! Source:

SHAME ON MR. CORTINES!!!!!!!!! Regular Kids???? This statement made me think Mr. Cortines values the "Regular" children over students with special needs. The fact that he made a distinction between the "Regular" kids and the "Special Education" students signaled to me that he does not view all of his students as equal. As a parent I don't know how I trust him to make decisions about the care, wellbeing and safety of my child, if in fact this is his perspective.

This is a phenomenally difficult financial time for the district. I can't imagine the pressure and I do not doubt that he is doing the best he can. I even consider that perhaps somehow his comment was taken out of context. I don’t know, because I do not know him and I was not there. What I do know is that these words in print, as stated, hurt all of us who love and care for special needs children, and at best his words were careless. The question now is, what is he going to do about it? If in fact his remarks were taken out of context or they did not accurately reflect his position, I will look to see a response, apology, correction or retraction in the LA Times.

For those of you who want to read it for yourselves, below is the entire article from the LA Times. For those of you who read it and want to do something about it, Matthew Asner has organized a Show of force protest set for June 22nd at noon. The plan is to do the protesting while Board members arrive for the LAUSD board meeting at 1PM. Beaudry Building Board Room, 333 South Beaudry Ave., Los Angeles, CA:

With its fountains, gardens, playgrounds, murals and spotless walkways, Frances Blend School in Hollywood looks more like an oasis than a battleground over the future of education for the disabled.

The well-ordered campus for young blind students conveys the message that no detail, no extra care, is too trivial or wasted in helping the neediest in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

This level of care, intermittent district wide, grew out of decades of effort by educators and advocates, who sometimes sued the district to secure rights. But now officials plan to spend much less on the disabled: 200 classes will be shut down, as well as a specialized campus, the West Valley Special Education Center. Blend also faces cutbacks; but just as alarming as these overt moves, critics say, is a pervasive focus on saving money by limiting services to individual children.

Parents, advocates and attorneys have rallied to complain about the cutbacks, even enlisting the star power of actor Ed Asner, whose grandson is in a special education program.

The cutbacks are part of broader budget reductions across the school system to close a multimillion-dollar deficit. The results will include increased class sizes, decimated art and music programs, closed libraries and an expected 1,000-plus layoffs.

Meanwhile, serving the disabled costs more than the state and federal governments pay for. The overrun for this year is $628 million from the general fund, which is intended for the district's regular program.

Officials assert that they have to reduce expenses, but they also insist that they are helping disabled students as the law requires and have even improved some services.

At Blend, recent enhancements include gardens outside every classroom. One room has been outfitted like an apartment so students can learn skills such as making beds, washing clothes and cooking meals.

The blind often can be accommodated at regular schools, but Blend students have multiple disabilities: Some are emotionally unstable, some are deaf, some don't speak, some don't walk.

But they all do physical education, a few under screening that shields albino students from sunburn. On a recent day, a 9-year-old girl with an unerring sense of direction steered a tricycle around the playground. A group shot baskets, cheering each time a thump announced ball hitting backboard.

The school's curriculum is diluted as little as possible.

"Our students have potential," said Blend principal Nancy Cohen. "We have so many special strategies that we use here. And many can graduate and go to a general education site, which is our goal for every student."

Cohen was included on a list of cuts for next year, along with her plant manager, office manager and a clerk. Her small school was to be overseen by adjacent Van Ness Elementary, which has 280 students, including 44 special education students of its own.

"Blend has one adult to every three kids," said L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines. "Some of those are very, very severe cases, but you have to look at it in perspective. When you fund some of the special ed things, you're taking from regular kids."

Parent Linda Grossman called the consolidation plan "a huge mistake." Blend "is a very specialized school. Everything works so well. My daughter loves coming here. My fear is that it's just going to fall apart."

She recalled the school's fast, sure response when her daughter choked and needed to be hospitalized.

After complaints from parents and media inquiries about planned cutbacks, Cortines backed down somewhat, agreeing to let Cohen stay at reduced pay while removing the part-time assistant principal.

About 13% of students in the nation's second-largest district have a recognized disability. And their education has long been a sensitive subject.

The federal government requires a "free and appropriate" individual program for disabled students but pays only about 17% of the added cost.

In settling the landmark 1993 Chanda Smith lawsuit, the district acknowledged widespread deficiencies in the education of disabled students and agreed to pay for an independent monitor. Current monitor Fred Weintraub has generally commended district progress but said he would assess the effect of budget cuts.

Ongoing independent reviews describe incremental but real progress through the 2008-09 school year.

The number of fully qualified special education teachers increased from 71% to 89% over five years. More disabled students are taking part in a state testing program, more students are getting timely evaluations and parents are receiving faster responses to complaints, according to the independent monitor.

An apparent boost arrived last year in the form of $152 million in one-time federal funds for disabled students. Some of the money went for staff training and purchasing speciali equipment. But most of it went to the general fund to offset some of the ongoing costs of special education.

The closing of 200 classrooms will likely force thousands of children into longer commutes to other schools, where average class sizes could grow substantially. At the same time, the district is reducing busing for disabled children to save as much as $7.4 million.

Larger classes would save $24 million next year but teachers will have to manage a wider age range and additional disabilities.

Small classes and individual attention make a difference. At Blend an aide steadied and sometimes held up an obese girl so she could walk on a treadmill to build up leg strength. A few weeks before, she had displayed warning signs of an approaching diabetic coma, but staff quickly summoned the on-site nurse and paramedics.

Critics, including some district employees, say it's becoming harder to get the appropriate help for each child. They claim that changes in the forms that set out a student's special education plan appear designed to reduce costs by limiting needed options.

Sophisticated or better-off parents can challenge district decisions through lengthy "due process" procedures, said attorney Valerie Vanaman, who specializes in representing disabled children.

But low-income or non-English-speaking parents will be disproportionately harmed, she predicted.

"This is truly the worst I've ever seen," Vanaman said of the district's new approach. "All decisions as to what to offer a family are being made on a policy basis by administrators who don't know that child … We're going to have kids with hugely divergent needs and disabilities in the same classroom with a minimum of services."

The district defends its new version of the legally required forms as easier to understand.

But Weintraub, the independent monitor, said it's "hard to track the level of services that are supposed to be provided. Somehow that's lost."

As in past years, Weintraub officiated at recent special education public hearings. The hundreds assembled spoke passionately of harms from recent or proposed budget cuts.

"These are tough times," said Weintraub, "for all of us who care about schools."


  1. Show of force protest set for June 22nd at noon- Lets Make a Difference! Save Special Education is organizing a show of force protest. The planned protest will be held on June 22nd at noon. The plan is to do the protesting while Board members arrive for the LAUSD board meeting at 1PM. The protest will be held at the The Beaudry Building downtown. We are protesting the devastating cuts to Special Education and the recent discriminatory remarks made by Superintendent Cortines in the Los Angeles Times. Please join us and fight for the rights of not just the Special Education students that will be directly harmed because of the cuts, but for the rights of every child in Public Education.

    Beaudry Building Board Room, 333 South Beaudry Ave., Los Angeles, CA

  2. You were kinder in this post that I could have been.

  3. Yes, Donna was much kinder than many of us would be. Suspect she "bit her tongue", so to speak, as she wrote. My first reaction to the Times article was anger, then tears. I hope to be at the June 22nd protest.

  4. Sorry I've been so distracted...just catching up on your blog right now...Cortines is a tool and our school are failing ALL children...and the money is spent on every other damn thing (prisons, war, etc, etc) rather than taking care of our kids and their is criminal and we must rise up and say STOP! Your writing is exquisite and such a gift...keep it up, dear woman...if only we all had your compassionate heart and to you and family.

  5. Oh, Donna. When I read this to Kevin, he said "Fine. Sorry to inconvenience LAUSD. I'll give my disability back then."

  6. Comment by HNewton on July 24, 2010 at 2:43pm
    Delete Comment Donna, I've read many natioanl articles about LA schools and the irony is that many of the "regular" kids that the article proclaims to disenfranchise don't even want an education because you have campuses where on a given day may only have 60% occupancy. That means 40% of the kids stay home or skip school at the high school level. I have read time and time again that LA has the highest drop-out rate in the entire country, yet more money is spent on its students. Yet, you have parents of disabled kids fighting tooth and nail for an education and opportunities for their kids.

    So, how are "regular" kids being disenfranchised when on a typical day you don't even have 100% of the student body present at many of these schools? At least let the Special Ed kids be there, present and getting an education.

    I think what you do is fantastic. Keep doing it, girl!

  7. I read that article and it was maddening. But the sad truth is that the school department (at least here) does value the "regular" students far more than special ed students. And the parents of the "regular" students feel even more strongly about this. I admire you setting up protests in support of special ed.
    I think things are going to get far worse for special needs kids here in CA. I'm hearing some scary rumors including the dismantling of the regional center system.