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Lynn Rodriguez and Patty Moore: When Is a School Not a School?

Students at Mission Community School deserve same rights and protections as other citizens

In a bizarre twist in the increasing saga around the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout our city, proponents of more marijuana dispensaries recently found themselves pitted against parents and advocates of young students with special needs.

Lynn Rodriguez
Lynn Rodriguez

Although the city of Santa Barbara has adopted an ordinance that prohibits the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries within 500 feet of a school, city staff recently approved a permit to open a dispensary near the corner of Mission and State streets, which is less than 500 feet from a transition high school serving students with developmental disabilities. When the permit was issued, staff was not aware of the existence of Mission Community School — located across the street from the proposed dispensary — because it is in a commercial building and doesn’t have the same appearance as most other local schools. The school is run by the Santa Barbara County Office of Education and serves minors (under 18) and young adults (18-21).

Patty Moore
Patty Moore

Last week, after city staff became aware of the school, it recommended that the Planning Commission act to revoke the permit on the grounds that it violated the city’s existing ordinance regulating dispensaries. Following some debate about whether the transition school fits the definition of a “special school” under the ordinance, and after hearing dozens of people speak on both sides of the issue, the commission voted to revoke the permit. Now, in yet another twist, one of the commissioners would like that decision to be reconsidered.

The only basis for a reversal of the earlier vote would be to find that Mission Community School is not a school under the ordinance, a finding that would turn logic on its head and be contrary to the opinion of the city attorney. Mission Community School provides a high school course of instruction with state-credentialed teachers, as well as life skills training for students aged 16 and above, in accordance with the requirements of the California Education Code. State law provides for high school transition programs like those offered by the County Education Office and the Santa Barbara School District to serve students with developmental delays who need more time to mature and achieve independence.

The state education code requires the County Education Office and the Santa Barbara School District to serve qualifying special-education students in need of additional support through age 21. The fact that there happen to be more students at Mission Community School who are age 18-20 than there are age 16-17 is no basis for finding that this school should be treated differently under the ordinance from any other K-12 school in the city. Mission Community School cannot be compared to a community college or other adult school program that serves an entirely different, more mature population.

As parents of children with developmental disabilities, we want to urge that the rights of students being served by transition school programs, are given the same legal protection for a safe environment as all other students.

The transition programs serving young people with developmental disabilities provide them with the opportunity to be included and accepted in the community. While each student has his or her individual transition plan, the goals for most students include increasing independence in mobility, life skills, safety, and making good choices. Mission Community School is one of only two local transition programs serving students in our community.

Our goal as parents of students with special challenges is not to suppress the rights of individuals in the community with regard to medical marijuana dispensaries. We simply want to shed light on the rights of students with special needs, as defined in law, and to share a little what these rights and services mean to these students, their families, and the community.

Parents with children who have developmental disabilities have hopes and dreams for our children, just like everyone else, and expect that they will travel through the community on their own, walking and taking public transportation. They can be employed, have friends and live at least semi-independently. To accomplish this, they need training, educational support, and a community that is willing to accept and welcome each as one of its productive citizens.

Mission Community School, and others like it, is the ticket for our children to participate fully in society. Their rights as a student deserve the same consideration as students attending other K-12 school facilities. We hope the city will provide the same protections to students in these special state-mandated programs, as described in the ordinance, as it does for any other K-12 school in the community. We also hope that the rights of our students with special needs are afforded the same compassion and opportunity as people using marijuana for medicinal purposes.

— Lynn Rodriguez is a member of the Alpha Resource Center board of directors, a former Santa Barbara School Board member and mother of a 15-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, who currently attends San Marcos High School. She is a potential future student at Mission Community School. Patty Moore is the parent of three sons, the youngest of whom, age 23, was born with Down syndrome. She is also the manager of Children, Family & Advocacy Services at Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara, where she has worked closely, for the past 19 years, with parents of children with special needs in our community and with our local schools.

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