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The Campanile

The Campanile

Keep K-5 special education program at Ohlone, Escondido

Keep+K-5+special+education+program+at+Ohlone%2C+Escondido

In an effort to focus more on students’ individual needs and reduce the burden on teachers, PAUSD has decided to move the moderate to severe special education classes currently held at Ohlone and Escondido Elementary Schools to Nixon and Barron Park for the 2023-2024 school year.

While Ohlone has one combined special education class for kindergarten through fifth grade, at Nixon and Barron Park, the program will be split into one class for kindergarten through second and another class for third through fifth, a move the district says will allow teachers to pay more individual attention to each student.

Nixon and Barron Park are also more centrally located elementary schools within PAUSD. Mild to moderate special education classes will continue at Ohlone and Escondido.

However, the decision, unveiled to parents and teachers during a meeting in February was met with concerns about the quality of education at the new schools and the lack of consultation with teachers and families before making the decision.

While The Campanile applauds the district for providing students with a more individualized education, we ask PAUSD to more thoroughly consider the learning environments of each school and give opportunities for parent and teacher input prior to making these kinds of decisions.

According to Elisabeth Doxsee, an instructional assistant at Ohlone’s moderate to severe special education program, Ohlone has many facilities that Nixon lacks. For example, Ohlone is an open, single-level campus, allowing teachers to watch their students walk to their general education classes, which helps promote their independence. Nixon, meanwhile, has multiple flights of stairs, requiring a staff member to escort students to their general education classes, limiting their independence and creating safety risks.

Besides safety, Ohlone also has a farm that is used by the special education programs as an opportunity for project-based and social emotional learning. Amanda Boyce, a director of special education at PAUSD, told The Campanile that only 15 families will be inconvenienced by the relocation to Nixon and Barron Park.

She also said the district has offered to provide transportation services for the families affected. But for many of the parents of the students affected by the change, the district didn’t spend enough time considering the emotional challenges of a new location for their student.

For students with moderate to severe learning disabilities, a change in their learning environment and routine can be more difficult and disruptive than for other students, something that parents of special education students will have to navigate come next school year.

Because of this extra challenge, parents and teachers say they were not properly consulted prior to the decision. Boyce told The Campanile that the Community Advisory Committee, a group of parents who advocate for special education students, was consulted about the decision at a meeting in January. However, the teachers, staff and families in the special education classroom at Ohlone did not receive communication from the district before the decision was made and announced.

The Campanile thinks clear communication between the district, teachers, staff and parents directly affected by changes to the special education programs is imperative.

Parents and teachers in the special education program should also be given opportunities to provide feedback prior to the district reaching any decisions to ensure the best interests of the students are met and prioritized.

While The Campanile praises PAUSD for separating the moderate to severe special education program into two classes based on grade level, we think the district should consider implementing this split model at Ohlone instead because of its more optimal learning environment and community for special education.

We acknowledge that splitting the combined class into two requires more classes and potentially more teachers, but Doxsee told The Campanile that there are multiple additional classrooms available at Ohlone, and that the staff there would welcome supporting more moderate to severe special education students. Hosting the moderate to severe special education program at Nixon and Barron Park may align with the district’s emphasis on localization and finance. However, the social, academic and logistical needs of the students should always come first.

To ensure their education is prioritized, PAUSD should welcome hearing from the teachers, staff and parents who work with special education students every day and who largely believe special education should remain at Ohlone and Escondido.

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