by Mary Yang
What seemed like a mundane Thursday morning at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board Room turned into an uproar of 50 plus frustrated parents. After having received notice that their children who are enrolled at Banneker Special Education Center have been integrated into general education classrooms without their consent, these parents marched into the public hearing with the Independent Monitor of the Modified Consent Decree to address their concerns.
After being notified that their children were being integrated without prior knowledge, Banneker parents sought out school administrators for answers but were instead given vague responses. Many requested to see how their child was adjusting in a general classroom but were not able to on multiple occasions. A few parents stated that the administrators gave them incorrect information intentionally. Frustrated with administrators, parents stormed the monthly public hearing to voice their concerns and opposition to closing down Banneker. To the surprise of the Independent Monitor, Frederick Weintraub, parents were being forced to sign their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or deal with the repercussions of halting their child’s special-needs services. Weintraub ensured parents that Banneker was not closing but will be integrated with Avalon Gardens Elementary School. However, this integration indirectly implies that services and staff will be cut. Weintraub stated that the integration of these schools will go into full effect Fall 2013 and not much can be done about it.
The unintended consequences to the integration of Banneker Special Education Center and Avalon Gardens Elementary School are apparent. The children with disabilities will have to deal with the distress of transitioning to a new school while parents are concerned about bullying, which is already a crisis among students in general education. Many parents fear that the district is underestimating the situation as they scramble to comply with federal and state laws.
The Modified Consent Decree was enacted as a settlement in the Chanda Smith v. LAUSD lawsuit in 1996. LAUSD was alleged to have violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensure children with disabilities have the same opportunity for a free education as other children. However, LAUSD still failed to meet crucial components of this law.
The courts appointed an individual to be the Independent Monitor as an oversight to LAUSD compliance with federal law as well as the decree. The district created 15-18 outcomes to be met by June 30, 2006. LAUSD did not meet its goal even under intense federal scrutiny. They failed to meet two crucial outcomes: the Least Restrictive Environment (Outcome 7) and Delivery of Services (Outcome 13).
Present at the hearing was Briggitte Ammons, who is part of the Modified Consent Decree Plaintiffs’ Counsel. She sat quietly on the side as parents individually walked up to the podium to address the Independent Monitor. Ammons seemed all too calm about the situation as Banneker parents continued to express the psychological effects the integration will cause their disabled children. The lawsuit became a matter of self-interest as one isolated incident created a law that affected many. This law forced LAUSD to revamp its special education but the dictation of time, money and such narrow minded focus of alleviating segregation in the LAUSD school system does not automatically lead to equal access to education.
Despite the uproar of these parents to the new integration of special education centers with public schools, the district has not made any effort to address these parents concerns. Even if the district offered some empathy to these grieving parents, it would make a difference in easing their anxiety of integrating their children into Avalon Gardens Elementary. These parents’ uproar could be an opportunity for LAUSD to reinvent the system through a successful implementation of the consent decree. A study conducted by Rosetter & Arndt in 2012, showed a successful implementation of a consent decree with low cost and effective results in the Cordero v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1992).
This uproar is not a new incident as prior to the settlement in 1996, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and parents with children who had severe disabilities threatened to take action, as parents felt excluded from the settlement process. The plaintiffs were forced to make revisions to the language to appease parents and UTLA. To abstain Banneker parents from taking legal action, it may be in the districts best interest to find a balance between the needs of these families and meeting compliances.
Mary Yang is a student at the University of Southern California in the Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health programs.