An appropriate education

Concerned parents critical of prolonged process for improving PUSD's learning disability support system

Piper Cummings is a middle school student living in Pleasanton. She has multiple learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyscalculia and while she works hard to keep up and advocate for her education, her parents say the district is not doing enough to help. (Photo courtesy Cummings family)

News

An appropriate education

Concerned parents critical of prolonged process for improving PUSD's learning disability support system

Piper Cummings is a middle school student living in Pleasanton. She has multiple learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyscalculia and while she works hard to keep up and advocate for her education, her parents say the district is not doing enough to help. (Photo courtesy Cummings family)

For Betsy and Jamison Cummings, their daughter's education means everything. But as 13-year-old Piper looks to her future high school days, her parents are fearful that she won't get the help she needs for her learning disabilities.

"We've had the acknowledgement from teachers within Pleasanton, who have said, 'She's very fluent in what she's learning and how she learns,'" Betsy Cummings said. "So we want for her to be a member of the graduating class of 2027, at Amador -- we are just fearful that they are not going to work with Piper in her advocacy and how she learns."

Piper Cummings has been diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia, which are learning disabilities that affect how she learns how to process both words and numbers. She also has dysgraphia, which can cause difficulties from physically writing words to issues with organizing and expressing thoughts in written form.

Because of that, her parents said it's been hard managing her way through elementary and middle school -- mainly, they contend, because the Pleasanton Unified School District hasn't given teachers the proper training in teaching kids with learning disabilities.

But the Cummings family aren't the only parents who have had issues with PUSD's efforts in implementing programs to help their kids with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

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"It took him a lot at first to get him out of Pleasanton to go to this other school," said Nancy Larson, a parent of three children, when talking about her son who has dyslexia. "Then it took a lot to bring him back because he knew how they weren't serving him the first time. Then once he came back it was off to a really bumpy start. Gradually it was getting a little bit better and then it just tanked again."

Larson argues that the district has failed in several aspects, and while district officials say they have been doing the work to help students with any and all learning disabilities in the long term, she referenced back to the past couple of years the district had to fix these issues.

But did PUSD fail these families, and is the district actively addressing its strategies and skills for teaching these students? To fully understand, one must go back to 2017, when the issue really came to the forefront.

PUSD's plan for dyslexia support

According to DyslexiaHelp, a website designed by the University of Michigan, dyslexia is thought to be one of the most common language-based learning disabilities.

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"It is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties," according to the website. "Of people with reading difficulties, 70%-80% are likely to have some form of dyslexia. It is estimated that between 5%-10% of the population has dyslexia, but this number can also be as high as 17%."

Because of recent state-led efforts to address the topic of dyslexia, PUSD approved its Dyslexia Awareness Month resolution back in 2017. As a part of that resolution, the district made a commitment to implement a Dyslexia Action Plan, which was going to outline how the district was to implement programs to help teach students with dyslexia.

Think tank meetings were held and handfuls of teachers began getting training on the Wilson Reading System, which is a curriculum meant to address dyslexia -- the district had adopted the system in 2016.

Fast forward to May 2022 and the same action plan was brought up again during a Board of Trustees meeting where several parents, including Larson, criticized the district and how long it was taking to fully implement the Wilson programs and get the teacher training that was promised in 2017.

But as the years passed, district officials told the Weekly that they wanted to shift to a broader focus to include other developmental disabilities and to focus more on addressing the learning issues at an early age.

"One thing that we realized in working so closely together, and in reviewing the Dyslexia Action Plan, is that special education can't have an initiative toward managing dyslexia without a comprehensive literacy instruction and strategy," said Jeni Rickard, senior director of special education at PUSD.

Rickard, who joined the district in 2020 amid the pandemic and remote learning, said that since then the district has been putting resources into training special education teachers and providing the materials through the Wilson system.

"Oftentimes, we hear Wilson, and we think it's just one thing -- it's for students with dyslexia, but it actually is a comprehensive program," Rickard said. "Any student who is experiencing; first of all, a need for reading instruction; second of all, a need for reading intervention; and then third of all, the most intensive intervention for students with significant decoding problems, Wilson can support all of that."

She said before she was hired, several large cohorts of PUSD teachers underwent a three-day Wilson training that taught them how to implement teaching strategies that help those students who need the most intensive intervention.

There's also more cohorts of teachers currently going through the training.

But she said instead of focusing on getting those teachers fully certified in the Wilson program, which can take about a year and a half of instruction, Rickard said it's more important to first build a strong foundation at the general education level.

"If special education says, 'We're gonna get all of our teachers trained to implement this intensive intervention program mandatory, every teacher has to do it', and we don't have a corresponding foundation of core instruction and intervention, then this top-tier strategy for special education isn't going to be effective," Rickard said.

The Pleasanton Unified School District made a plan to address the needs of kids who had dyslexia back in 2017 but have since said they want to broaden their scope of focus to implement early learning strategies so they can intervene early on in a child's education if needed. (File photo)

PUSD is also currently working on training its teachers in the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) program. The two-year college level course teaches the science behind reading and how to teach reading within the classroom.

"We actually are following through with teacher training, and also with what we call structured literacy approaches, which is explicit in structured teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics and the sound to letter symbol combinations of how people learn to read," said Shay Galletti, coordinator of early literacy and numeracy.

Galletti is no stranger to the early teaching intervention world, having previously held the title of director of elementary education before taking on her new role.

According to district officials, this new role was created last year to further help address literacy at an early age through a multi-tiered system for all students.

Two years ago, Galletti sent a team of intervention specialists to become trainers in LETRS -- once they were trained, they began teaching cohorts of teachers starting last year. This year they have a new cohort of 40 teachers following the previous 80.

She added that the goal is to have every teacher up to the fifth grade trained in LETRS so that the district can intervene early on in a child's learning career and help them get up to par in reading to minimize the amount of students in special education.

This is referenced as tier one intervention.

"If you look at dyslexia best practices, almost all of our reading difficulties for about 85% of our children can be handled with proper instruction in tier one," Galletti said. "So that's where we're really focusing on how do we even negate the problem before it gets to be a problem and how do we teach students and then identify those who do need help?"

But even through all the work that the district says they are doing to better screen and help children with learning disabilities at an early age, the Cummings and Larson families still believe that nothing up to this point has been followed through with fidelity.

Parents' distrust of district

Larson told the Weekly that she had first noticed something different in her son, Jason, when he was in kindergarten.

"I noticed that he was struggling," she said. "The teacher was kind of working with me to get him some extra help ... and then it just gradually seemed to be getting worse."

Larson officially found out that Jason had dyslexia in second grade, but like many other parents she didn't really know what to do after the diagnosis.

When a child has things like learning disabilities, the parent and the child must go through what's known as an individualized education program.

"(PUSD officials) have had so many chances to fix a problem that is bigger than they realized. They could have saved so much money and they have really failed so many kids in this system and it's the biggest tragedy."

-Betsy Cummings, Parent

IEPs are legal documents governed by federal and state law to ensure that students with disabilities get a mapped-out plan for how they will receive proper instruction based on their needs.

"If there's a concern with a student's educational performance, we are required to assess a student in any area of suspected disability," Rickard said. "We're not assessing a student for special education because they're not performing academically; it's because we suspect a disability."

So naturally, Larson went through the process with her son, but she said her mistake was trying to do that on her own.

"When I was trying to advocate for Jason on my own at his IEP meetings, I would spend so much time trying to figure out what I need to go to them about, how do I get him help," Larson said. "And then I went to the meeting, and I was just basically told 'no' in whatever I was asking for."

After that, she decided to get help in the form of an advocate who helped Larson pull her son's files -- which the advocate told Larson contained several red flags.

"It got to the point where there were so many red flags in his file that she said I'm probably going to need an attorney because things that he was tested for his IEP, the testing data wasn't complete," Larson said. "They left out certain parts and some of those certain parts were parts that would have diagnosed him with his dyslexia."

That's when Kristin Springer came into the picture.

Springer is an attorney who has helped Larson, a longtime friend, and the Cummings family as well.

"I stay very busy in Pleasanton because there's a lot of kids that are not being served -- and that's just dealing with the dyslexia side," Springer said. "In Pleasanton, I've probably handled 20-25 students that have dyslexia and dyscalculia."

Because of Springer's help, Larson was able to kick start her journey of getting her son the help he needed -- but at a different school called Raskob Learning Institute and Day School in Oakland.

She said the nonprofit, which specializes in teaching children and adults with learning disabilities, helped address Jason's self-esteem and anxiety issues that stemmed from his learning issues.

Larson said he even gave a speech during his middle school graduation ceremony.

Springer said these cases should be getting more attention from the district, which led her to join Betsy and Jamison Cummings in their cause in getting PUSD to properly address the situation of taking too long to implement any programs that will help students today, not years down the road.

"Somebody should have been saying this was a critical issue we need to address," she said. "(According to the MAP scores), you have 36% of your students with disabilities fall below that 20th percentile, which is the most critical and in-need students."

Where things stand

Last year, the Cummings family spent a lot of time in court after first having filed a request for a due process hearing where they alleged that the district denied Piper her Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

On Feb. 24, Administrative Law Judge Charles Marson, who's been with the Sacramento regional office of the Office of Administrative Hearings since 2005, ruled in favor of Betsy and Jamison.

"The Feb. 24, 2022 decision found PUSD failed to have an IEP in place at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year producing 'a series of results damaging to parents' participatory rights,'" according to the publicly obtained court file. "The Feb. 24, 2022 decision found that PUSD's significant violations left (Piper) with a program that was obscure and staff were left wondering what program to follow."

The family then filed a separate federal appeal case in April. According to the court documents, Springer had sent a demand letter to the district to seek reimbursement of attorney's fees without having to incur additional costs, which the family claims the district has ignored.

They plan to seek reimbursement of legal fees incurred and to obtain reimbursement on the due process fees.

The appeal document also states that the district allegedly did not reach an agreement with the Cummings family regarding Piper's services.

It was also during these hearings that the family was being assured that Piper would get the help she needed moving forward, which is why Jamison and Betsy decided to stay with PUSD -- to give them another chance.

"In her mind, I think she felt secure, because we had been promised certain things," Betsy said. "It wasn't necessarily our ideal situation, but we knew that we had to give them the chance to prepare her for high school."

Piper Cummings, a middle school student in Pleasanton, puts in more hours studying because of her learning disabilities, which make it hard to read, process numbers and express thoughts in written form. (Photo courtesy of Cummings family)

But she said Piper didn't receive any of the extra support in terms of even just simply checking in on her mental well-being when she wasn't doing well in her math class.

"She ended up having three full blown panic attacks at school," Betsy said.

That was almost the same thing that Larson said she was worried about when her son Jason said he wanted to come back to PUSD to play football at Amador Valley High School. She said that even though he himself was a bit hesitant on going back to a district that even he himself knew wasn't serving his learning needs, he still wanted to come back.

Larson said that even though she has lost her trust in the district, his current team at Amador and his teachers seem good. All she can do now is try to help advocate for other parents going through the same.

PUSD director of communications Patrick Gannon told the Weekly that while the district isn't able to speak publicly on any active litigation, they understand that they still have work to do and are "committed to moving forward."

"We are pleased to have filled a newly created position last year to help lead our work (coordinator of early literacy and numeracy) to support all students," Gannon said.

"One thing that we realized in working so closely together, and in reviewing the Dyslexia Action Plan, is that special education can't have an initiative toward managing dyslexia without a comprehensive literacy instruction and strategy."

-Jeni Rickard, PUSD senior director of special education

As that new coordinator, Galletti said that implementing these types of programs and teaching methods takes time and even if it might take longer than expected, she and Rickard want to do the job the right way.

"Telling families don't worry, we have a plan, and we're in it for the long game, doesn't help their students that day in their classroom," Rickard said. "We know that we're in it for the long game and sometimes that means that we're not going to put a Band-Aid on something that needs a more comprehensive strategy but that doesn't mean that we're not going to support our students."

"My worry is when you say, 'Oh, it's a long-term plan,' it's like we're putting things off. Nothing is being put off," Galletti added. "We're actively working daily, to ensure our teachers are trained in the science of reading to make sure they have the materials. (To make sure) principals and teachers are actively working every day to pinpoint students who are struggling, and then to provide that intervention for those who are struggling, whether it be reading math, socially, and emotionally."

But as the Cummings family and Larson previously said, they feel like they can't trust the district and that they have shown time and time again that they have not been able to properly serve their children.

They also wanted to make sure it was clear that they had nothing against any teachers as Piper has had numerous great teachers -- their main issues are wanting to see those teachers, and more, getting the training they need to teach their daughter and other children with learning disabilities.

"Piper is her own advocate and so she has left her mark on dyslexia and has changed people's minds and changed some educators ... so there has been some impact ... but it's not enough to help Pleasanton," Betsy said. "(PUSD officials) have had so many chances to fix a problem that is bigger than they realized. They could have saved so much money and they have really failed so many kids in this system and it's the biggest tragedy."

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An appropriate education

Concerned parents critical of prolonged process for improving PUSD's learning disability support system

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 12, 2023, 9:34 pm

For Betsy and Jamison Cummings, their daughter's education means everything. But as 13-year-old Piper looks to her future high school days, her parents are fearful that she won't get the help she needs for her learning disabilities.

"We've had the acknowledgement from teachers within Pleasanton, who have said, 'She's very fluent in what she's learning and how she learns,'" Betsy Cummings said. "So we want for her to be a member of the graduating class of 2027, at Amador -- we are just fearful that they are not going to work with Piper in her advocacy and how she learns."

Piper Cummings has been diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia, which are learning disabilities that affect how she learns how to process both words and numbers. She also has dysgraphia, which can cause difficulties from physically writing words to issues with organizing and expressing thoughts in written form.

Because of that, her parents said it's been hard managing her way through elementary and middle school -- mainly, they contend, because the Pleasanton Unified School District hasn't given teachers the proper training in teaching kids with learning disabilities.

But the Cummings family aren't the only parents who have had issues with PUSD's efforts in implementing programs to help their kids with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

"It took him a lot at first to get him out of Pleasanton to go to this other school," said Nancy Larson, a parent of three children, when talking about her son who has dyslexia. "Then it took a lot to bring him back because he knew how they weren't serving him the first time. Then once he came back it was off to a really bumpy start. Gradually it was getting a little bit better and then it just tanked again."

Larson argues that the district has failed in several aspects, and while district officials say they have been doing the work to help students with any and all learning disabilities in the long term, she referenced back to the past couple of years the district had to fix these issues.

But did PUSD fail these families, and is the district actively addressing its strategies and skills for teaching these students? To fully understand, one must go back to 2017, when the issue really came to the forefront.

PUSD's plan for dyslexia support

According to DyslexiaHelp, a website designed by the University of Michigan, dyslexia is thought to be one of the most common language-based learning disabilities.

"It is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties," according to the website. "Of people with reading difficulties, 70%-80% are likely to have some form of dyslexia. It is estimated that between 5%-10% of the population has dyslexia, but this number can also be as high as 17%."

Because of recent state-led efforts to address the topic of dyslexia, PUSD approved its Dyslexia Awareness Month resolution back in 2017. As a part of that resolution, the district made a commitment to implement a Dyslexia Action Plan, which was going to outline how the district was to implement programs to help teach students with dyslexia.

Think tank meetings were held and handfuls of teachers began getting training on the Wilson Reading System, which is a curriculum meant to address dyslexia -- the district had adopted the system in 2016.

Fast forward to May 2022 and the same action plan was brought up again during a Board of Trustees meeting where several parents, including Larson, criticized the district and how long it was taking to fully implement the Wilson programs and get the teacher training that was promised in 2017.

But as the years passed, district officials told the Weekly that they wanted to shift to a broader focus to include other developmental disabilities and to focus more on addressing the learning issues at an early age.

"One thing that we realized in working so closely together, and in reviewing the Dyslexia Action Plan, is that special education can't have an initiative toward managing dyslexia without a comprehensive literacy instruction and strategy," said Jeni Rickard, senior director of special education at PUSD.

Rickard, who joined the district in 2020 amid the pandemic and remote learning, said that since then the district has been putting resources into training special education teachers and providing the materials through the Wilson system.

"Oftentimes, we hear Wilson, and we think it's just one thing -- it's for students with dyslexia, but it actually is a comprehensive program," Rickard said. "Any student who is experiencing; first of all, a need for reading instruction; second of all, a need for reading intervention; and then third of all, the most intensive intervention for students with significant decoding problems, Wilson can support all of that."

She said before she was hired, several large cohorts of PUSD teachers underwent a three-day Wilson training that taught them how to implement teaching strategies that help those students who need the most intensive intervention.

There's also more cohorts of teachers currently going through the training.

But she said instead of focusing on getting those teachers fully certified in the Wilson program, which can take about a year and a half of instruction, Rickard said it's more important to first build a strong foundation at the general education level.

"If special education says, 'We're gonna get all of our teachers trained to implement this intensive intervention program mandatory, every teacher has to do it', and we don't have a corresponding foundation of core instruction and intervention, then this top-tier strategy for special education isn't going to be effective," Rickard said.

PUSD is also currently working on training its teachers in the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) program. The two-year college level course teaches the science behind reading and how to teach reading within the classroom.

"We actually are following through with teacher training, and also with what we call structured literacy approaches, which is explicit in structured teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics and the sound to letter symbol combinations of how people learn to read," said Shay Galletti, coordinator of early literacy and numeracy.

Galletti is no stranger to the early teaching intervention world, having previously held the title of director of elementary education before taking on her new role.

According to district officials, this new role was created last year to further help address literacy at an early age through a multi-tiered system for all students.

Two years ago, Galletti sent a team of intervention specialists to become trainers in LETRS -- once they were trained, they began teaching cohorts of teachers starting last year. This year they have a new cohort of 40 teachers following the previous 80.

She added that the goal is to have every teacher up to the fifth grade trained in LETRS so that the district can intervene early on in a child's learning career and help them get up to par in reading to minimize the amount of students in special education.

This is referenced as tier one intervention.

"If you look at dyslexia best practices, almost all of our reading difficulties for about 85% of our children can be handled with proper instruction in tier one," Galletti said. "So that's where we're really focusing on how do we even negate the problem before it gets to be a problem and how do we teach students and then identify those who do need help?"

But even through all the work that the district says they are doing to better screen and help children with learning disabilities at an early age, the Cummings and Larson families still believe that nothing up to this point has been followed through with fidelity.

Parents' distrust of district

Larson told the Weekly that she had first noticed something different in her son, Jason, when he was in kindergarten.

"I noticed that he was struggling," she said. "The teacher was kind of working with me to get him some extra help ... and then it just gradually seemed to be getting worse."

Larson officially found out that Jason had dyslexia in second grade, but like many other parents she didn't really know what to do after the diagnosis.

When a child has things like learning disabilities, the parent and the child must go through what's known as an individualized education program.

IEPs are legal documents governed by federal and state law to ensure that students with disabilities get a mapped-out plan for how they will receive proper instruction based on their needs.

"If there's a concern with a student's educational performance, we are required to assess a student in any area of suspected disability," Rickard said. "We're not assessing a student for special education because they're not performing academically; it's because we suspect a disability."

So naturally, Larson went through the process with her son, but she said her mistake was trying to do that on her own.

"When I was trying to advocate for Jason on my own at his IEP meetings, I would spend so much time trying to figure out what I need to go to them about, how do I get him help," Larson said. "And then I went to the meeting, and I was just basically told 'no' in whatever I was asking for."

After that, she decided to get help in the form of an advocate who helped Larson pull her son's files -- which the advocate told Larson contained several red flags.

"It got to the point where there were so many red flags in his file that she said I'm probably going to need an attorney because things that he was tested for his IEP, the testing data wasn't complete," Larson said. "They left out certain parts and some of those certain parts were parts that would have diagnosed him with his dyslexia."

That's when Kristin Springer came into the picture.

Springer is an attorney who has helped Larson, a longtime friend, and the Cummings family as well.

"I stay very busy in Pleasanton because there's a lot of kids that are not being served -- and that's just dealing with the dyslexia side," Springer said. "In Pleasanton, I've probably handled 20-25 students that have dyslexia and dyscalculia."

Because of Springer's help, Larson was able to kick start her journey of getting her son the help he needed -- but at a different school called Raskob Learning Institute and Day School in Oakland.

She said the nonprofit, which specializes in teaching children and adults with learning disabilities, helped address Jason's self-esteem and anxiety issues that stemmed from his learning issues.

Larson said he even gave a speech during his middle school graduation ceremony.

Springer said these cases should be getting more attention from the district, which led her to join Betsy and Jamison Cummings in their cause in getting PUSD to properly address the situation of taking too long to implement any programs that will help students today, not years down the road.

"Somebody should have been saying this was a critical issue we need to address," she said. "(According to the MAP scores), you have 36% of your students with disabilities fall below that 20th percentile, which is the most critical and in-need students."

Where things stand

Last year, the Cummings family spent a lot of time in court after first having filed a request for a due process hearing where they alleged that the district denied Piper her Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

On Feb. 24, Administrative Law Judge Charles Marson, who's been with the Sacramento regional office of the Office of Administrative Hearings since 2005, ruled in favor of Betsy and Jamison.

"The Feb. 24, 2022 decision found PUSD failed to have an IEP in place at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year producing 'a series of results damaging to parents' participatory rights,'" according to the publicly obtained court file. "The Feb. 24, 2022 decision found that PUSD's significant violations left (Piper) with a program that was obscure and staff were left wondering what program to follow."

The family then filed a separate federal appeal case in April. According to the court documents, Springer had sent a demand letter to the district to seek reimbursement of attorney's fees without having to incur additional costs, which the family claims the district has ignored.

They plan to seek reimbursement of legal fees incurred and to obtain reimbursement on the due process fees.

The appeal document also states that the district allegedly did not reach an agreement with the Cummings family regarding Piper's services.

It was also during these hearings that the family was being assured that Piper would get the help she needed moving forward, which is why Jamison and Betsy decided to stay with PUSD -- to give them another chance.

"In her mind, I think she felt secure, because we had been promised certain things," Betsy said. "It wasn't necessarily our ideal situation, but we knew that we had to give them the chance to prepare her for high school."

But she said Piper didn't receive any of the extra support in terms of even just simply checking in on her mental well-being when she wasn't doing well in her math class.

"She ended up having three full blown panic attacks at school," Betsy said.

That was almost the same thing that Larson said she was worried about when her son Jason said he wanted to come back to PUSD to play football at Amador Valley High School. She said that even though he himself was a bit hesitant on going back to a district that even he himself knew wasn't serving his learning needs, he still wanted to come back.

Larson said that even though she has lost her trust in the district, his current team at Amador and his teachers seem good. All she can do now is try to help advocate for other parents going through the same.

PUSD director of communications Patrick Gannon told the Weekly that while the district isn't able to speak publicly on any active litigation, they understand that they still have work to do and are "committed to moving forward."

"We are pleased to have filled a newly created position last year to help lead our work (coordinator of early literacy and numeracy) to support all students," Gannon said.

As that new coordinator, Galletti said that implementing these types of programs and teaching methods takes time and even if it might take longer than expected, she and Rickard want to do the job the right way.

"Telling families don't worry, we have a plan, and we're in it for the long game, doesn't help their students that day in their classroom," Rickard said. "We know that we're in it for the long game and sometimes that means that we're not going to put a Band-Aid on something that needs a more comprehensive strategy but that doesn't mean that we're not going to support our students."

"My worry is when you say, 'Oh, it's a long-term plan,' it's like we're putting things off. Nothing is being put off," Galletti added. "We're actively working daily, to ensure our teachers are trained in the science of reading to make sure they have the materials. (To make sure) principals and teachers are actively working every day to pinpoint students who are struggling, and then to provide that intervention for those who are struggling, whether it be reading math, socially, and emotionally."

But as the Cummings family and Larson previously said, they feel like they can't trust the district and that they have shown time and time again that they have not been able to properly serve their children.

They also wanted to make sure it was clear that they had nothing against any teachers as Piper has had numerous great teachers -- their main issues are wanting to see those teachers, and more, getting the training they need to teach their daughter and other children with learning disabilities.

"Piper is her own advocate and so she has left her mark on dyslexia and has changed people's minds and changed some educators ... so there has been some impact ... but it's not enough to help Pleasanton," Betsy said. "(PUSD officials) have had so many chances to fix a problem that is bigger than they realized. They could have saved so much money and they have really failed so many kids in this system and it's the biggest tragedy."

Comments

KTeed
Registered user
Val Vista
on Jan 16, 2023 at 7:57 pm
KTeed, Val Vista
Registered user
on Jan 16, 2023 at 7:57 pm

Thank you, for writing this important story! More parents and involved members of our community need to be aware of this serious, ongoing problem. The issues covered in this one story are just a sampling of how PUSD has failed its special education students and families.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2023 at 6:04 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2023 at 6:04 am

"They plan to seek reimbursement of legal fees incurred and to obtain reimbursement on the due process fees." -- Awesome. Let's all sue the district. This will improve education for everybody!


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 17, 2023 at 7:47 am
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2023 at 7:47 am

I think the point is PUSD has ignored many special needs families. I have sat in board meetings where hundreds of thousands of dollars are awarded to these families. Does the district think this is cheaper than providing services? There is about 12% of students with special needs. It’s been a while, but PUSD is trying to hold those they serve to 10% or less. And so, legal fees will continue.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2023 at 9:50 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2023 at 9:50 am

"I think the point is PUSD has ignored many special needs families. " -- How can you make that sweeping generalization of something so complicated. PUSD has a limited budget. I think expectations are too high for both the district and teachers. Is the expectation that every teacher be an expert at teaching every special needs issue? They have a full classroom and if one third of your students have IEP's, how can you meet that need? If the IEP was created by a lawyer, how realistic is that? Litigation, adversarial relationships.... These are not the answer. And then you have the gall to sue and send your kid back to PUSD so he can play football. LOL.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 17, 2023 at 11:33 am
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2023 at 11:33 am

Ob, no district can willfully ignore the needs of a student. It is a public school system. Come up with a better plan or at least train teachers. In this case, the student chose to come back; don’t know if they will be able to play football. In some cases, a student can be sent to another—usually private—school who can best address the needs, and it costs the sending school district. So, they are going to pay. Talk to Sacramento if you find this laughable.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2023 at 11:37 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2023 at 11:37 am

KR, missing the point, as usual.

They are training teachers. They are spending considerable money with a new system.

IEP's don't address reality. They just assume that anything is possible and funding is unlimited.

Litigation just takes money away from everything else and funds these families vacations.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 17, 2023 at 9:39 pm
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2023 at 9:39 pm

Ob, I read the article and understand teachers are being trained. I hardly believe vacations are part of the families’ plans. 12% of population vs 9-10% being served is the problem. Again, PUSD apparently believes paying out their losses is cheaper than providing the services in the first place. That is a major problem.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:03 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:03 am

"The average cost of educating a special education student each year is $26,000, compared to $9,000 to educate a “general education” student. Costs vary widely depending on the disability of each student, the LAO report notes. For example, it might cost $1,000 a year to provide a student with periodic speech therapy, while a student in an out-of-state non-public school with severe emotional problems might cost a district $100,000 a year."

"Another flaw in how California underwrites special education is that state funds are mostly allocated based on total district enrollment, not based on the number of students in special education, or the severity of their disabilities."

"Local school districts have had to pick up an ever-increasing share of the costs. On average, California school districts now pay 61 percent of the costs, up from 49 percent just a decade ago, according to the LAO report."


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:10 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:10 am

This is a funding problem, period. Special education is taking up a bigger share of local districts budget pie. Districts have a limited budget and they are in the unenviable position (similar to an HMO) of having to limit services (or care) in order to balance the books. I'm taking issue with the decision to litigate as the "model". Because the parents don't have separate "accounts" (like the district), when they are paid out for their legal fees, we the taxpayers are definitely funding their vacations. I'm assuming those families take vacations.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:13 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:13 am

And another issue: The better a district gets with special education, the more special education students will enroll which hurts your budget even more. Parents will move.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:43 am
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:43 am

People moving in has been an issue for many years.

Families take vacations regardless. Don’t pin those vacations on special ed payouts. It’s a ridiculous argument.

There is, however, a funding problem, and not just with special ed. That much we can agree on.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:55 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:55 am

"There is, however, a funding problem, and not just with special ed. That much we can agree on." Game, set, match. So if it's a funding issue, then are these family's litigation activities helping or hurting the district's funding situation? We are paying for the district's lawyers, parent's lawyers, admin costs, legal fees, and the education plus ups. Litigation isn't helping. And they are using emotional words like "tragedy and trust", when its just about the money.... And then re-enroll their kid when he wants to play football. WABOFBS.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:20 pm
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 7:20 pm

I should have said there is a general funding problem for education, special and general ed. The fact is PUSD and many districts are not meeting the needs of their students.


DR
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2023 at 9:59 pm
DR, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2023 at 9:59 pm

OM
You are incorrect. I spend $200 a week just for speech because our school in Pleasanton does not have a speech pathologist. Did you know they have students under the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and have no employee that can attend an IEP meeting to give support to the student? Reading specialists are not qualified to teach children with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia. There is a science to reading and it’s costly to parents due to the cost of tutoring specific to Dyslexia. One in five students are dyslexic. 2000 plus students at one of our high schools and not one teacher is trained in a program that teaches students how to read beyond “look at the picture “ or memorize the story aka Bob Books. The pathway to prison for dyslexic starts in third grade. The percentage in jail is astounding. We need to see this problem and work to fix it. The district spends a lot of money to fight something that instead they could pay for.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2023 at 6:28 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2023 at 6:28 am

We are so close. So if PUSD is challenged to meet the needs of all these students with specialized needs due to lack of funding, does these parents lawsuits hurt or help the funding situation?

Simple question.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 19, 2023 at 9:25 am
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2023 at 9:25 am

They help because until the district gets this right it’s parents only answer.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:17 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:17 am

It absolutely would be great if every student had an individualized education to fit their specific needs. What's the cost of that? Is there an example of that anywhere in public school in the US? Atherton? Palo Alto? Nope. The expectation should not be that PUSD can do this. Parents have to supplement for their specific students needs. Done.

Parents only answer --- Nope, they could work with their teachers and district while supplementing with tutors. If that doesn't work and they meet a roadblock.... Maybe public education isn't for you. Go private. Pursuing litigation and forcing all of us to pay for your unrealistic expectations while hurting the institution that you tell yourself you are somehow helping?


ptowntb
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:47 am
ptowntb, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:47 am

Thanks to the families in the article for speaking out; it takes courage! And it is not only special ed students who need effective reading instruction.


Justamom
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2023 at 2:22 pm
Justamom, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 21, 2023 at 2:22 pm

OB. Did you really say “And another issue: The better a district gets with special education, the more special education students will enroll which hurts your budget even more. Parents will move.” You are what is wrong with the world. How dare you?! I’ve seen gen Ed kids destroy the school morale and property. They are costly. You are gross.


Frustrated Voter
Registered user
Birdland
on Jan 21, 2023 at 5:48 pm
Frustrated Voter, Birdland
Registered user
on Jan 21, 2023 at 5:48 pm

My heart breaks for student needs not being met. Absolutely. It should not be a parent’s job to have to advocate so vociferously for their child’s needs to be met. And know that most teachers, especially at the elementary level, ask for help all.the.time but are met with the same brick walls. Please understand that “training teachers” is not the exactly correct answer. An analogy is that you go to a GP for your general health concerns, but a specialist for more specific needs. A general education teacher is not a specialist and cannot diagnose; they only can seek help from those who have more specialized training. PUSD and neighboring districts need to invest in specialists - on site, on demand - instead of foisting more expectations and responsibilities on GenEd teachers.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2023 at 8:24 am
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2023 at 8:24 am

"How dare you?!" -- Point out the costs and that local school districts have to pay for it out of the same pot of money? Yeah, I'm losing sleep over it. Again, it would be great if funding was unlimited and every student got the specialized education they needed to thrive. Wait, I think I just saw a Unicorn roll by my window.


BobB
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 24, 2023 at 11:25 am
BobB, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 24, 2023 at 11:25 am

Ob,

Every student does not need specialized education. The majority will not. Sometimes these lawsuits are necessary to get the needed help. Sadly, this appears to be the case in the story. I'm glad they're getting a help they need now.


Ob
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2023 at 1:37 pm
Ob, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 24, 2023 at 1:37 pm

So remove the emotion from the argument. I have a student who needs specialized help. The district is offering X. As the parent, of course I'm going to want X+Y. The district has a fixed budget and can not offer the (+Y). They may not even be able to offer it to this one student, because they would then have to offer it to everyone with this need, which they really can't afford. The ( +Y) may not even help my student, but heh, I'm desperate and my child definitely needs help. So, I decide to sue the district. But, I'm really suing the wrong entity. I should be suing the state for the unfunded mandate. By suing the district, I'm taking away funding from everything, which makes the whole problem worse for everyone else. I may get the +Y to some extent for my individual student, but I'm reducing the money for everyone else (gen and spec). So, when you say that these lawsuits are necessary and should be the model, I'm going to say no.


Save it!
Registered user
Heritage Valley
on Jan 25, 2023 at 8:30 pm
Save it! , Heritage Valley
Registered user
on Jan 25, 2023 at 8:30 pm

Early in elementary school we asked the district to assess our son for suspected learning differences. The district refused to assess him. We waited another year or two, asked again, again they denied. We paid for a private assessment out of pocket more than $6,000. We brought the results to the district and they decided they wanted to test him. After testing they found he was not eligible for a 504 or IEP based on their findings. Their findings couldn't have been farther from ours if they tried.
We asked to see their testing notes which legally they are supposed to retain. They couldn't produce them. We searched his files, they weren't in there. Had the district provided the notes and proved their results it likely would have stopped us from being able to move forward. Why did they lose their notes? Accident? Maybe. Who knows?
What's the next step? Request an IEE. The district denies our request for an IEE and off to litigation we go. Now we are forced to hire an attorney to represent us. If we don't have legal representation we are going to get smoked. I can't disclose the results but I can say that had the district initially agreed to our first request for an assessment they likely would have denied us, we would have been none the wiser and been appreciative of them being a supportive district who clearly must have the best interest of all students in their hearts. Instead they cost us and others an egregious amount of time in bs arguments, not to mention the amount of money wasted on testing. We handed them a completed report. We saved them time and money... but still, they fought... why? what is their motivation? Is it less expensive to deny, deny, deny? I imagine most families don't have additional funds and time to fight the district. It's not cheap and there's no guarantee you win. Imagine parents who pay for a private schools to support their children. Private school payments in addition to prop taxes paid that fund public ed they can't access. No win.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Jan 26, 2023 at 9:02 am
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2023 at 9:02 am

Save it! has stated the reality. PUSD is working to keep the spec ed group lower than is needed, hurting students. And to be clear, this is the administration, not teachers. As to private schools who can actually help a student if PUSD refuses, PUSD may have to pay. And that’s why you hire a lawyer to get a response.


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