Guest contribution - Students, families, and teachers will be negatively affected by Elk Grove Unified's elimination of Inclusive Education program




By Brandon Morgan | Special to Elk Grove News | 

Friday, August 26th will forever be known in my family as a dark day in Elk Grove Unified School District history. This was the day that the district announced to teachers in the Inclusive Education program that they had decided to end the program.

This choice was made due to an ongoing national shortage of teachers, and more specifically, Special Education Teachers. Currently, Elk Grove faces a shortage of 23 classroom teachers to work in K-6 self-contained special education classes as well as the Learning Centers in some schools.  The solution for EGUSD was to end an ongoing program after the beginning of the school year and move the teachers from that program into these classrooms.     

On face value, this seems like it would be a good plan, but ultimately this plan robs Peter to pay Paul, and students with special needs will fall through the cracks and ultimately result in the district facing lawsuits over out-of-compliance IEPs (Individual Education Plans), and a lack of access to legally mandated equal access to educational opportunities.

To fully understand what the problem here is, it’s important to understand a few things; 

  1. What inclusive education is, 
  2. What an inclusion specialist does, 
  3. What is the district’s plan for these students, and finally 
  4. How this will impact the current state of special education within the district.

Inclusive education is a model that arose on the notion that students with special needs will have better and more successful outcomes in education if they have access to the general education classroom, with students serving as peer models for social interactions and receiving access to the same educational experiences as any other child would receive. While not all districts implement inclusive education programs, Elk Grove for many years has had a model that prioritizes inclusive education for children when possible, instead of relying on the traditional seclusive model that segregates all children with moderate to severe disabilities away from the general education population.

 As many students in Elk Grove’s Inclusive Education program qualify with moderate to severe disabilities, there’s quite a lot of work that goes into implementing this type of program. This is where the Inclusion Specialist comes in.  





These are teachers who work to oversee a child’s educational experience, making sure that they are on the path to achieve goals within the IEP. This comes in many different ways; overseeing the para-educators who work directly with the students in the classroom, assisting teachers in modifying curriculum on an individual level, pushing into the classroom to work directly with the child alongside the teacher, pulling them into social groups, to work on pragmatics, and academics as per their IEP, and working alongside a collaborative team of educational service providers and parents to create the best possible educational outcome for the child.

This is where I must disclose that I am both the father of a student who is in the Inclusive Education program, and the husband of an Inclusion Specialist. The district’s choice to end this program has a major impact on the lives of both my wife and my son. 

My wife received an email from the district on Thursday, August 25th stating there would be a mandatory meeting of all Inclusion Specialists, and as we know, a mandatory meeting on a Friday is never a good one.  

In this meeting, the district laid out the plan to move these teachers into the classroom. They would need to submit their assignment preferences by Tuesday the 30th, receive their assignments on the 31st, and have 4 days to prep before being in the classroom on the 8th of September. This would ultimately result in unprepared teachers entering classrooms they’ve had no time to set up, not knowing the curriculum they’re supposed to work with, and nothing about the students they will have. 

It should also be of note that many of the Inclusion Specialists, like my wife, have been in this position for quite some time, some with a decade or more where they have not been in the classroom as a teacher but rather in this very specialized position of directing a unique educational program for individual students.

For my autistic son, this becomes a big disruption to his education and likely will put his IEP out of compliance - which is a legal problem for the district. Students like him will be transferred over from his IEP being managed and implemented by the Inclusion Specialist to the Learning Center at his school. And while the Learning Center teachers are amazing and have their own unique opportunity to work with students, this is very much not the answer. 

An Inclusion Specialist is supposed to have an average caseload of 15 students to be considered full-time - and they have no cap. Most are currently working with a caseload well over that,  and often they are put on consult with students in the learning center and other programs. 

To put this on to the Learning Center would overburden an already overburdened system within the district. Learning Center teachers have incredibly full days already. They are pulling students for groups, working on various academic skills. There’s no break in the day for them to work on things like managing para-educators, creating and implementing new behavioral programs for students to work on in the classroom, and push into the classroom as required by some IEPs. 

My son’s IEP requires the Inclusion Specialist to push into the classroom for 30 minutes twice monthly. Where will they find the time to work with potentially 20+ additional students in this capacity? This will surely lead to expensive and time consuming lawsuits for the district, and take away from the educational opportunities children like my son should legally be having.

This is not a workable solution. The district’s choice to do this is appalling, and they were very intentional about how they did it. 

Waiting until the contractural school year had started, without the knowledge of any of the program specialists in the district who oversee the Inclusive Education Program, Principals or Vice Principals, allows them to hold these teachers hostage. Any teacher who decides to quit as a result of this may have their credential suspended by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing for up to 2 school years as a punishment for breaking contract. 

This means they can’t take another opportunity in another district. They would need to work in another field outside of Special Education. This decision was fully supported by the Elk Grove Education Association, the local Teacher’s union that for years has overlooked the needs of teachers in the Special Ed program as they make up a very small fraction of their member base.

I fully understand Elk Grove’s need to fill these classrooms with teachers. But this will only end up in teachers quitting. This is not the way to do it. 

Special Education is already a very hard field to recruit for, and has a turnover rate of nearly TWICE the rate of general education teachers. It’s a difficult job to do, and why would one want to do it when you would make exactly the same pay, with all the same benefits, in a general education classroom?

The district isn’t doing anything to make this job appealing. They’re not offering any incentive for that college graduate, who’s choosing what credential to go after, to choose a Moderate to Severe Special Education credential. How are they expected to make this work when they instead choose to abruptly throw teachers under the bus?

As a parent, I want this story heard. I would hope that other parents of children in the Inclusive Education program find out about this story, because you were not told this would happen. You would not find out until sometime this or next week when you get a call that your child’s upcoming IEP meeting has been canceled, potentially putting that IEP out of compliance. You’d be asked to agree and sign for a change in services on their IEP, changes that ultimately will result in less of an opportunity for them to succeed. 

And I would want you to know, you don’t have to sign that. You can object and file a grievance with the district. 

And I’d ask that if you’re upset and angry as I am, you’d make your voice heard and that you’d email Superintendent Christopher Hoffman (SuptOffice@egusd.net), David Reilly, the Assistant Superintendent (dereilly@egusd.net), and Anne Rigali, the director of Special Education (arigali@egusd.net) and let them know what you think about this.


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2 comments

Josie said...

Being of an advanced age I found this to be very interesting and thought perhaps I should do a little research to learn more facts about the Inclusive Education program offered at our School District and why it has been eliminated by the EGUSD. Perhaps there are others in my same situation that would like more info.

https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/inclusionworks2ed.pdf


INCLUSION WORKS
Creating Child Care Programs That Promote
Belonging for Children with Disabilities

Second Edition
California Department of Education
Sacramento, 2021

Unknown said...

EGUSD, back in the day when David Gordon was Superintendent, was on it's way to having an effective Inclusive Special Ed program. After he left, the program started to get strained and began falling apart. SpEd is now low priority - teachers are over worked, underpaid, case loads are too high, programs are understaffed, appropriate resources and supports are lacking...and the kids suffer and don't make the progress and learn the skills necessary to succeed! We need to demand better for our kids and teachers/support staff! And marginalizing kids by segragating them into self contained classes is the expedient solution and not what is in the best interests of the kids!

There is a history of a lack of proactivity, follow through, incompetence and mismanagement at the administrative level and there is also a resistance to thinking outside the box in regards to special education. The writing has been on the wall for a long time.

And why is SpEd understaffed? How about pay SpEd staff more to start! And give kids and teachers the supports they need! Stop being reactive which results in wasting funding on lawsuits and attorneys...So frustrating!

Here is an article about an inclusive school program in LA that is effective and successful. EGUSD can do better!

https://www.laschoolreport.com/all-in-a-southern-california-school-with-a-radical-and-successful-vision-for-students-with-disabilities/?fbclid=IwAR1-GoR3Rlr6sSTurmfjn5RtaEk2jpJ9NXF9-tpNYjbnjm4eDwr0bFQayss

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