Schools need to take special ed out of hiding.
I recently spoke before the Eugene School District Equity Committee during its public comment period about the lack of equity and transparency for children and families who are eligible for special education services. I asked committee members, "Am I in the right place?"
I was assured I was, and now I raise my voice again to share, advocate and be part of a solution to repair a structure that is so clearly broken.
There is no publicly accessible information on the Eugene School District's Comprehensive Learning Center programs. No information is on the district home website page, nor is any information available on the respective high school pages about CLC.
Our high schools champion and publicize programs like International High School, College Now and talented and gifted programs, yet the programs that serve children with autism and behavioral disorders are invisible.
Imagine what it is like for a family to see descriptions of rich programs and services, and then discover that the main source of stability and coherency for your child, the CLC, is invisible. The one exception is the valuable Life Skills program, which serves students with significant developmental delays.
There is no regular communication with parents about special education programs, services or outcomes.
The district holds one 45-minute evening meeting for parents in special education, advertised as a "CLC Transition Information Meeting."
What do we learn at this meeting? We learn that placement is a district decision. We learn that there are modified diplomas. But we do not learn about the specific program models, design or outcomes of these programs. We are not informed of graduation rates.
One written document was disseminated - a copy from the "Oregon Graduation Options" without any context for how CLC programs in Eugene allow students to earn one of the four options. While other families are touring schools and leveraging choice, children and families in special education have no access to information, and are told that the power to place children in a school resides with the district alone.
There is a structural resistance to instituting equity for children and families in special education.
After 11 o'clock on the night before my son's pre-placement individual education plan meeting, I received a document from special education describing all the CLC programs and their design. This was after four emails to high-level administrators, three phone calls to CLC centers and their respective teachers, and an appearance at the district's Equity Committee meeting.
Initially, I was told the information did not exist. I have been told that the information is not available because it is personnel-driven, and CLC teachers and resources have changed and shuffled considerably over the last five years. I have been told that it wouldn't matter anyway, because the district decides placement.
Let me just repeat that: The district decides placement. My child is not a placement, and the district is comprised of people who should hold the same values I do - specifically, that people in a democracy have a right to information so that they may evaluate, verify and clarify critical decisions that affect the social and intellectual growth of its most vulnerable citizens.
Now, my husband and I were grateful to finally receive written information about CLC high school programs - even though we received it after the school district's school choice applications were closed. The document we received is not publicly available. All parents should have this. This is why I am pleading for equity.
There is no coherency between middle school and high school. Behavioral support, technology enhancements, text to type - these are all things we have been told we can expect to reinvent, because what our child has been offered in his middle school - the staff training and technology access that has allowed him to thrive - are not accessible in the high schools.
How do we get these resources and support? We have to force coherency through his individual education plan. Coherency in education should not be something you have to mandate through federally guaranteed documentation. It should be part of the school district's culture, with the full support of administrators and the Eugene School Board.
Special education is a civil rights and human rights issue. The district should champion the work, services, programs and options it offers.
It should value the benefits of an informed citizenry by making basic information about what the district offers available to parents.
It should consider that instead of holding us at bay and protecting an authoritative culture, it might invite us to help rebuild a structure with equity and education for our lively, talented and unique children at its center.
Christina Howard is a parent of two children in the Eugene School District and a member of the Lane Community College faculty.