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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 5:36 am | Fair 50º


Santa Barbara District’s Parent Workshop Focuses on Special Education, Co-Teaching Rollout

Santa Barbara Unified School District leaders held a special-education workshop this week to give parents an update on the department’s progress.

It has been five years, and several department heads, since a damaging report was issued that detailed serious deficiencies in the district’s special education programs.

At this week’s workshop, parents said communication and qualified special-education support staff are still a problem, despite the progress in other areas.

The Board of Education adopted a resolution of inclusion two years ago, and has started a co-teaching effort throughout the district this year, with special-education teachers working alongside general-education teachers.

The district contracted with consultant Wendy Murawski to train staff and implement the strategy in classrooms.

Schools need to have special-education students in general-education environments more of the time, program director John Schettler said.

In terms of progress, “all the schools are in different places,” he said.

Parents expressed concern with the quality of instructional assistants and support staff, saying some don’t have special-education credentials or Americans with Disabilities Act training.

They also questioned the amount of work heaped on the special-education teachers doing co-teaching.

A Santa Barbara High School teacher said he is learning new things about teaching every day with his cohort, a special-education teacher working with him.

“Even though I’m old, an old dog, I’m learning new tricks,” he said.

The problem is, his cohort has to do co-teaching in his classroom in addition to all her other responsibilities, he said.

Since it’s the first year pursuing co-teaching as a district, Schettler said he wasn’t surprised there are some “growing pains.”

He was concerned that general education teachers wouldn’t embrace it, but people seem to be supportive, he said.

Poor communication has been a frequent grievance against the special-education department, and staff are trying to be more proactive with a newsletter and the opening of the Parent Resource Center.

The district, with the help of donors and parent advocate Cheri Rae, opened up the center to parents and staff.

The center is located at the district office, but the goal is to move it out into the community and make it a hub for parent trainings, said Helen Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of special education.

Keeping parents informed has been an issue for years, board member Ed Heron noted. He suggested that the district make more of an effort to get messages directly to parents, not just through principals.

Parents asked for more special-education information and events targeted at feeder districts such as the Goleta Union School District, since most of those students will come into Santa Barbara Unified for junior high and high school.

Even Wednesday’s meeting was only attended by some parents because they saw a posting on The Autism Society Facebook page, not through a district notification, parent Cathy Abarca said.

There should be more of an effort to get information to Spanish-speaking parents and families that don’t use email, she said.

Overall, the district needs to have a level of expectation for respect toward parents and involve them more, board member Pedro Paz said.

“Information is knowledge, it’s key — it’s what gets a parent from a place of despair to a place of hope,” he said.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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