Parents and organizations alleged inadequate services and support are being provided to Pasadena Unified School District students with special needs as well as to the staff tasked to teach and care for them during a School Board special study session Thursday.
The session had been called to focus on the district’s special needs education programs.
Heather Richardson, a local mother of a child with special needs, emphasized the importance of early detection of children’s disabilities when she shared before the School Board the challenges her child had to endure because of the district’s alleged failure to immediately recognize the latter’s learning disability.
“Her experience in elementary was painfully insufficient and unsatisfactory in this district,” said Richardson. “Her specific learning disability and mental health issues went undetected and unmet in PUSD.”
Aside from better systems and early intervention, Richardson also called for more evidence-based Dyslexia screening and intervention to be provided earlier for students who struggle to read.
Parent Tasha Wilkins echoed similar sentiments and urged the PUSD to improve its systems and speed up processes in identifying students with special needs.
“It was two years for my first request for my son to be tested for learning disability until psychoeducational assessment was complete, then it was another nine months after the first initial IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting.”
“In that time, my son went from being excited about learning to failing every single class he was in.”
Laura Diaz Allen also urged the district to better address concerns of parents and intensify its efforts to create a qualified workforce in special education.
“I want us to be the place where a parent feels welcome to ask for support, knows who to ask, receives prompt response to emails and phone calls and get services their child needs without having to fight so hard.”
“I have a dream for staff too and that is that they have the knowledge, tools and support they need to do their job and serve kids well.”
Allison Steppes, President of United Teachers of Pasadena (UTP) said PUSD’s special education department should be held accountable over its alleged repeated failures to communicate and address the concerns of professionals who are providing the needs of students with disabilities, including special education teachers and counselors.
“My members are still struggling with communication from the special education department. They are still struggling in getting the services that they need in order to provide for the parents’ children.”
Responding, Associate Superintendent of Specialized Student Support, Marco Villegas, who is responsible for administering all programs and services for children with disabilities, vowed to make sure that students who are supposed to be receiving special education services will be identified as quickly as possible.
Villegas revealed that because of the pandemic and the lack of staffing last year, many students were not assessed.
“A lot of different families may qualify for special education but we don’t know yet because we were not able to assess them. In that case we need additional staffing, we need additional psychologists to be able to assess them.”
“Early intervention is crucial,” said Villegas. “Hopefully, we would be able to identify and provide intervention to all our students at an early age.”
He continued: “Ideally, we would like to have systems of support for all our students so that any student in any of our campuses would get the appropriate level of support and differentiation in order to be successful whether it be academic or it be social, emotional.”
Meanwhile, PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald said the District will launch a new communication feature on PUSD’s website called “Let’s Talk.”
With the feature, anyone from the community can file their concerns or questions and these will be received by the department concerned. The response is expected to be provided within 48 hours.
McDonald said he will be able to view the responses to the concerns on a weekly basis.
“I hear anecdotally all the time: ‘when we reached out to this department or that department, nobody answered.’ This way, I’ll be able to monitor and know what departments are doing a good job at returning or following up questions and concerns and which departments are not,” said McDonald.
PUSD data showed that for this school year, 16.7 percent of the 15,106 students enrolled in PUSD or a total of 2,478 students are receiving special education services from the district.
This is slightly higher than what was reported last school year which is 15 percent of the total student population or a total of 2,395 students.