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October 26, 2002

Ruling saves special education centers

From: Los Angeles Daily News, CA
Oct. 26, 2002

By Lisa M. Sodders
Staff Writer

NORTH HOLLYWOOD -- Los Angeles Unified School District officials say a recent court order preserving 16 special education centers, including six in the San Fernando Valley, will help them meet the needs of the profoundly disabled while continuing to mainstream other less needy students.

Last month's decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew reverses part of a 1996 federal consent decree that required the LAUSD to enroll a majority of nondisabled students on the 16 campuses, which now serve about 4,800 students with various physical and mental handicaps.

District officials and parents who want their children in sheltered classrooms cheered the ruling, which follows a mediated agreement between the school district and advocates of mainstreaming.

"(It gives us) some flexibility to develop programs that allow kids some opportunity for interaction and integration, but not be tied to a time line," said Pauline Furman, principal of the Lull School in Encino, which serves about 150 severely disabled students in preschool through seventh grade.

Under the 1996 Chanda Smith Consent Decree, the Lull School and its 15 sister campuses initially were required to reduce their numbers of special education students to between 7 percent and 17 percent of their total student enrollments by 2006.

Two of the district's 18 special education centers -- Marlton School, which educates deaf students, and Carlson Hospital School, a home and hospital program -- were omitted from the original requirement.

District officials said the special education centers will continue to find ways to mainstream disabled youngsters.

"No one disagrees -- we want to maximize the interaction (between students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers,)" said Donnalynn Jaque-Anton, the district's associate superintendent of special education. "What we also agree is that for some kids, the least restrictive environment is a special education center."

The centers feature low student-to-teacher ratios and specially trained staff who work with students, who typically have multiple disabilities, including mental retardation and language development problems. Some students use wheelchairs and need help with eating and using the toilet.

Ruth Holzman, a parent and a member of the Chanda Smith Consent Decree committee, agreed that mainstreaming isn't appropriate for all students. Some, for example, are medically fragile and need to be on a campus with a doctor.

But she also recognizes the needs of other parents who want their children to be mainstreamed into a general education classroom, or at least attend special education classes on a regular campus.

"Just because a child looks different or may need additional help doesn't mean they should be sequestered onto a special ed campus," Holzman said.

Integration can be done; it just takes time and planning, said Helen Hartel, principal of the Lowman School in North Hollywood, which serves 310 severely disabled students.

The school has a program that brings nondisabled students from Madison Middle School in North Hollywood and Fernangeles Elementary School in Sun Valley to Lowman several times a week. The program also places Lowman preschool and elementary students into mainstream classrooms.

Because of their disabilities, the Lowman students don't learn the same things as their regular education peers do, Hartel said. But they do learn, and so do the regular education students.

In one sixth-grade math and science class, the students were studying the skeletal system, Hartel said. Richard, a 12-year-old Lowman student, insisted on doing a report on Superman. The other students urged the teacher to give Richard permission -- they would put the bones on Superman later.

"It gave Richard a lot of self-esteem and confidence to be able to speak before the class, and the students, without realizing it, were reinforcing their own learning by becoming participatory in Richard's education," Hartel said.

Norma Boudreaux, 43, of North Hollywood, has two daughters: Natalee, an 11-year-old honors student, and Christhie, 20, who has disabilities from cerebral palsy and attends Lowman. She said Christhie feels comfortable at Lowman.

"They feel more confident here; the education here is based on what they can achieve," Boudreaux said. "I feel she's happy here: 'This is my place; I belong."'

Furman said the ruling gives the district a chance to make thoughtful changes, not eliminate the centers entirely.

"We all believe special education students must have opportunities to interact with general education students," Hartel said. "It's a general education world out there." SPECIAL DEDICATION Because of a recent court ruling, the Los Angeles Unified School District no longer must enroll a majority of regular education students on 16 special education campuses. The 1996 Chanda Smith Consent Decree initially called for these campuses, which serve about 4,800 students with severe mental and physical disabilities, to dramatically reduce their current enrollments. The following is a list of San Fernando Valley centers that will remain largely dedicated to special education students:

Leichman Special Education Center in Reseda

Lokrantz Special Education Center in Reseda

Lowman Special Education Center in North Hollywood

Lull School in Encino

Miller High School in Reseda

West Valley Special Education Center in Van Nuys

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