For years now, the Albany Unified School District’s Board of Education & Administration have neglected the Special Education Department with dire consequences for AUSD students with disabilities. While this neglect predates school closures under shelter-in-place, the pandemic has exacerbated these issues and shed a light on the District’s default policy of defunding Special Education programs first and supporting AUSD students with disabilities last.
The latest steps in this long, unfortunate trend have seen AUSD Administration proposing Special Education staff layoffs and the Board of Education giving the Administration carte blanche to do so. The result is a Special Education program near collapse with extremely demoralized Special Education teachers and staff, underserved students with disabilities, and families forced to fight tooth and nail to claw back basic services their children are entitled to by law under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The entire world agrees that children are in desperate need of mental health due to the tremendous stress created by the pandemic,” said Daniel Cardozo. “Yet, at a time when all students, particularly students with disabilities, need mental health services most, AUSD has summarily laid off its only educational psychologist with specialized expertise working with students with disabilities.”
“Only 7 out of over 100 Albany High School students with IEPs and untold numbers of students with 504 Plans are receiving the in-person services they need to access their education. This is hardly the continuum of support necessary for students with a wide range of disabilities, many of whom are especially vulnerable to learning loss and mental health issues,” stated Amy Apel. “Aside from the ‘Academy’ period that will be available for all students at AHS starting April 19, there are only two offerings for in-person services currently available. Seven students are in a Special Day Class for those unable to participate in General Education, and so-called ‘Internet Hubs’ are being offered for students to connect to wireless internet on school premises, but they receive no support. They deserve better from the District.”
“Special Education is clearly not a priority for the Albany Unified School District,” said Ben Wallace, who also serves on AUSD’s Budget Advisory Committee. “Just look at the Special Education Director role: since 2018, four different people have held the position; it has been eliminated, reinstated, merged with Student Services, then combined with a third role as Director of Albany Children’s Center, and finally brought back again at a lower rank with no immediate accountability to the Superintendent. In the meantime, Special Education staff morale has plummeted, and student achievement is collapsing.”
“For years, the AUSD Board of Education & Administration have been asked to prioritize students with disabilities, and for years they have assured the Albany community that things would be better, that change was just around the corner,” added Olga Miranda. “After years of empty promises, it has become clear that AUSD has no true intention to serve students with disabilities with fidelity, the way they deserve and the law demands.”
“One Albany Middle School Special Education teacher was recently laid off and the remaining special education teachers at that site have turned in their resignations,” said Disability Education Rights Advocate Cheryl Theis. “Imagine the community outcry if 100% of AMS general education teaching staff resigned! Yet students with disabilities, entitled by law to the support of qualified special educators, are left with a revolving door of substitutes and staff teaching on emergency permits for months. At a time when there is a critical shortage of special education qualified educators, filling these positions will be extra challenging and leave our students vulnerable to unprepared or underprepared teachers or to receiving ‘education by aides.’”
“The District Superintendent is fond of saying that the Board ‘can talk about values all day and the community might still not know what its values really are, but one cursory look at the District’s budget would crystallize those values in no time’,” recalled Cornell Elementary School PTA’s Diverse Learners Liaison Nery Castillo-McIntyre, adding, “the Board of Education & District Administration’s tendency to defund Special Education first and support AUSD students with disabilities last demonstrates how little they value the District’s most vulnerable students.”
The rally will take place in front of AUSD’s Enrollment Office, since the District Administrative Offices are housed in an inaccessible building located more than two miles away from the City of Albany. The Board of Education & District Administration are invited to attend and listen.
CONTACT: Olga Miranda
The Albany Disability Squad was founded in May of 2020 by a group of families of students with disabilities who united to advocate for students and to support one another. In addition to its advocacy at the AUSD Board of Education and its collaboration with district administration and staff, the Squad is working to make meaningful changes at the North Region Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) and to get involved with Special Education issues at the county, state, and federal levels. For more information, visit the Squad’s website at albanydisabilitysquad.org.