Using Students with Severe Special Education Needs As Lab Rats In An Education “Reform” Experiment

Carl J. Petersen
Dec 27, 2019 · 4 min read

“Outcome 7 — Part 1: Reduce the number of students with moderate to severe disabilities ages 6–18 at special education centers by a total of 33% over three years.”

- Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree

Nick Melvoin justifies his plans to force a school serving students with severe special education needs from the Fairfax High School campus by claiming that these students “had already been displaced from their home school which is on the west side of LA.” With this argument, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member is either making another attempt to rewrite reality or is ignorant of the function of Career and Transition Centers (CTCs). These schools serve young adults who have already culminated from high school and do not have a “home school.” Instead, they attend regionalized schools like CTC West that were established to fulfill the District’s legal obligation to provide vocational and life skills training until students with severe disabilities reach the age of 22.

Whether in an attempt to purposefully deceive or due to a lack of understanding of the subject, Melvoin seems to be confusing CTCs with the Special Education Centers that education “reformers” have been attacking for years. These specially designed centers serve school-age children who have moderate to severe disabilities in environments that are built to accommodate their physical needs. They also include programs that will help them meet their full potential.

Ignoring the demands of parents, the LAUSD fought in court to preserve the ability to eliminate the option of these centers and instead forcibly mainstream moderately to severely disabled students in general education facilities. This program was formalized under the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree which specified that a third of students enrolled in Special Education Centers would be transferred to other programs.

Chanda Smith was an LAUSD student with dyslexia who fell through cracks in the system and was not provided with the special education services to which she was entitled. Even though she was in the tenth grade, her “reading and math skills were at second- and third-grade levels and that she could not interpret numbers well enough even to tell time.” In 1993, lawyers from the ACLU filed a class-action suit under her name. The result of that suit was a consent decree, later modified, that the District struggled to comply with for decades.

After years of trying, the LAUSD has met the conditions of the lawyers who now oversee the case and will exit the consent decree (and the resulting outside oversight) as the calendar year comes to a close. Before leaving his position, David Rostetter, the Independent Monitor who oversaw the district’s compliance with the modified consent decree, addressed the members of the LAUSD’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC). Since his speech emphasized the importance of the district using “data to improve…performance”, I wondered what criteria was used to determine the number of students who would lose access to the special education centers:

Rostetter confirmed the long-held suspicion that the decision was based on “no research” at all. The parties simply picked the percentage of students who would be removed from these programs based on “the number that could be accomplished.” Instead of using carefully controlled studies, the children were simply used as lab rats to test the hypothesis that “segregation” was bad for these students and moving them to the general education population would be better for them. Imagine if the same thing had been done to their typical peers, especially ones of privilege.

Even more disheartening was the admission by the Independent Monitor that the program was a complete failure. “There were kids placed in bungalows who had feeding tubes, digestive issues, [and] cleanliness issues and there was no water. There were bathrooms [that were] completely inaccessible. They put a group of blind students with intellectual disabilities at the bottom two flights of…stairs. It was deplorable.” There is no way to determine if any substantive educational benefit was derived for these students since Rostetter admits that they “did not take data on that.” In other words, the actual results did not matter to those making the decisions.

With all the failures of forced inclusion, the person who had been in charge of looking out for the district’s most vulnerable students still lists “dramatically increasing the participation of students in home schools” as a success of the consent decree. This should not be surprising given his clear bias against those with severe intellectual disabilities. Rostetter believes the inclusive environment into which he would force all students should use “general education [as a] guide [to] all instruction”, leaving behind those whose education should focus on skills which would permit them to be as independent as possible. “Academic progress” is not always the only way to judge the benefits of an education. Students who have other needs should count too.

Photo by vaun0815 on Unsplash

Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at Opinions are his own.

NOTE: While Carl is an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC), he does not speak on their behalf.

Carl J. Petersen

Written by

Parent, special education advocate and former LAUSD School Board candidate. Still fighting for the children.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade