Albany Disability Squad Demands of AUSD (Rally of April 2, 2021)

RALLY | Friday, April 2, 2021 |  4:3O pm | 12OO Solano Ave @ Cornell
Albany United for Students with Disabilities: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Disability rights are civil rights and human rights. Children of all backgrounds and abilities can engage, learn, and make meaningful contributions to their community. Yet in Albany, some of the most vulnerable students have been educationally abandoned. At the Rally on April 2nd , we are calling attention to glaring inequities for students with disabilities and calling for a new vision for Special Education, with transparency, stability, prompt evaluations, timely intervention, a focus on academic achievement, and ultimately a renewed commitment to educational equity and justice for all.

We recognize that Board Trustees, District administrators, faculty, and staff work hard every day to deliver the best for all of Albany’s children. However, the problems we raise have been with us for a long time. They predate the current Board, the current administration, and the pandemic. They have persisted despite the best efforts of generations of special education teachers. These issues are systemic, with long historical precedents in K-12 education here in Albany. We need bold steps to fix them.

These are our demands:

VISION. Special Education at AUSD is in perpetual disarray. There have been 4 Special Education Directors in the past 3 years. During this time, the position has been eliminated, brought back, merged with Student Services, then brought back again at a lower rank. In the meantime, staff morale has plummeted and student achievement has continued to lag behind. We need vision and leadership at the highest levels to meet the needs of our most vulnerable learners!

TRANSPARENCY. Too often, AUSD treats families with students in Special Education like adversaries. Important rights, like student confidentiality, are all too often deployed toward cynical ends: to thwart transparency, keep families in the dark, and evade accountability. To counter this trend, the Albany Disability Squad recently submitted a formal Public Records Act request under California’s sunshine law to demand meaningful data on Special Education assessments, service delivery, and monitoring. We need transparent and thorough reporting for accountability and real reform

STABILITY. Students with disabilities and mental health issues are among the most in need of stability and consistency in their educational experience. However, as students are finally returning to in-person instruction, we lack the faculty to educate students with disabilities. Look at the evidence:

  • The AMS Special Day Class had no functioning instructor for most of the fall 2020.
  • Albany Middle School is losing all 4 special education teachers this coming fall. Three are resigning; one was released from contract. What kind of outcry would there be if 75% of the general education teachers at an Albany campus resigned? At the high school, one experienced resource teacher may be leaving; another has reduced hours to 50%. 
  • The only full-time educational psychologist providing counseling and educationally related mental health services and conducting evaluations “in house” has been released for next year.
  • Most paraeducators were laid off last spring; we still don’t know how many have been rehired.
  • Front-line staff report that morale is at an all time low. Many are exploring other opportunities

Our most vulnerable learners need stability and continuity in their instructional staff!  AUSD needs to retain effective, qualified special educators and fully staff positions based on student needs. New staff need professional development, mentoring and oversight, and those needs must be built into the staffing coverage models.  

PROMPT EVALUATION. Both parent reports and data recently released by the District indicate that the AUSD is grossly out of compliance on legally-mandated timelines for evaluating students in need–in some cases for more than a year. These reports strongly suggest that more than 100 students are significantly struggling while their families wait for their evaluations to be completed in order to see if their child is eligible for 504 or special education services. Struggling students need evaluations now!

TIMELY INTERVENTION. Numerous AUSD students with disabilities could not access education at all during distance-learning. They were left behind because they didn’t have the necessary equipment, staff support, or specialized services they required to benefit from remote education. Still other students wait for desperately needed mental health interventions. Struggling students need prompt evaluations and interventions  to meet their academic, developmental and mental health needs now!

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. Across the board, students with disabilities have some of the worst learning outcomes in CA. In Albany, according to 2019 CA Department of Education data, the graduation rate for all students is 92%, whereas the rate for students with disabilities is 63%.  Of Albany students completing HS, 63% were career and college ready, whereas only 14% of students with disabilities were so prepared. AUSD needs a proactive approach to compensatory education to address learning loss during the pandemic and new approaches to educational programming to overcome the achievement gap that impacts the most vulnerable students.

INTEGRATION & EQUITY. Special Education is a silo-ed program at AUSD. As we know from Brown v. Board of Education, separate is unequal. In Albany, the evidence is everywhere:

  • In May 2020, 70%+ of budget cuts fell on Special Ed to protect the District’s “core program”–sending a powerful message that special education is NOT a priority.
  • The Special Education Director position was merged with “student services”, with the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment bearing no responsibility for Special Education.
  • For decades, paraprofessional salaries were at poverty levels (with a recent modest increase).
  • Paraprofessional absenteeism persisted for years—prompting protests from general ed teachers unable to cope with higher-need learners in their classrooms.
  • The special education advisory committee lacks clear direction and strategy and doesn’t include representative voices from general education teachers and students.
  • We could go on…

Special Education at AUSD cannot be cured one IEP at a time. The Albany Disability Squad is working for a future in which all students in AUSD have equitable access to the general education curriculum—and meaningful inclusion in their school community. 

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