School board reviews disabilities learning programs | June 3, 2022 | Pleasanton Weekly | |
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Pleasanton Weekly

News - June 3, 2022

School board reviews disabilities learning programs

Also: LETRS system for elementary literacy, report on school resource officers

by Christian Trujano

Parents with children who have dyslexia pleaded with Pleasanton school board members last week to speed up the process of training teachers to better serve their students.

"We want these teachers to know what to do with our children who have these special learning disabilities," Pleasanton resident Jamison Cummings told the trustees.

Cummings, alongside his daughter who has dyslexia and his wife, spoke during the May 26 board meeting following an update report on Pleasanton Unified School District's Dyslexia Action Plan.

The plan, which started in 2017, has implemented training and curriculum to equip staff with the knowledge to better instruct and support students with disabilities, according to district staff.

One of the main criticisms of the plan many of the speakers voiced was why it is taking so long to implement things like the Wilson Reading System that has been around for years. The program is an intensive structured literacy instruction on helping students with disabilities such as dyslexia, learn how to read.

Cummings said his 13-year-old daughter Piper was one of the first in the program and has been with it in all her years in the district, but she has been struggling with getting the instruction she needs.

He also contended that he got treated with a lot of hostility after asking questions and said he found a culture in special education of not implementing programs properly and not collaborating with parents.

"We ask for help, we beg for help and unfortunately what we found is that when we come to you, you then go to your administrators for the answers, but you don't come back to us," Cummings said.

He believes the program would be better if board members not only listen to experts, but parents as well, given that they have had to become experts in their own right after learning about all of the different resources and programs for their children.

"No family should have to work as hard as we've worked to advocate for our child," Cummings said. "The school district, that is their job."

He said he looks forward to the program to be fully implemented with fidelity, transparency and the intent to teach early.

School board members did share the same sentiment toward speeding up the process of training all special education teachers to get further in the Wilson training.

In the update to the board, director of special education Jeni Rickard said the goal for the district is to have every special education specialist to complete partial training during the 2022-23 school year.

"It really will take time for all of our teachers to be (fully) trained," Rickard said.

However, Trustee Mary Jo Carreon and Board Vice President Steve Maher stressed the need for funding so that they can speed up the process.

"I've heard several letters today from parents who were very frustrated with Pleasanton ... they're saying that they want to come back to Pleasanton, they haven't got support because of dyslexia," Carreon said.

But for parent Nancy Larson, who has two kids with dyslexia, there's no time to waste.

"I witnessed my son in sixth grade go through terror in his first week because he hated school, nobody understood him. I saw a side of him that scared me," Larson said. "He knows he has not been able to make it in this school district because he feels like everyone has been against him."

She added that there's especially a need to get to these kids before they experience behavioral problems because of how undiagnosed dyslexia can lead these kids to the streets and to prison.

"We can't waste time, we need to get to these kids that can't read ... get to it now, please," Larson said.

In other business

* In addition to reviewing the dyslexia plan, the board was also updated on the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) program and the multiyear process to get teachers trained.

The program will be provided for all transitional kindergarten through fifth-grade classroom teachers, resource teachers and educational specialists to help teach kids components of literacy instruction.

"LETRS is the perfect way for us to give our teachers, our practitioners the kind of access to this current, powerful research and evidence of what works in the classroom." said Amanda Suraci, intervention specialist at Lydiksen Elementary School.

Andrea Carstenson, intervention specialist at Fairlands Elementary, added to that saying curriculums at schools are huge and meant to reach all kinds of needs. But lessons have to be flexible for students with disabilities.

"LETRS is not a curriculum, it's a philosophy and it's a practice. It helps teachers know which parts of their curriculum to pick and choose from based on assessments of their students," she said.

Shay Galletti, director of elementary education, said it will take about five years to train everyone but transitional kindergarten teachers have already started and are already seeing progress.

* The board received an annual update and progress report on the school resource officer program, which sparked discussion on whether those police personnel should stay at schools and if so, should they be unarmed.

Student Board Member Saachi Bhayani was the most critical as she explained how she spoke to Foothill High School's Black Student Union and how uncomfortable they feel with officers at school being armed.

According to Ed Diolazo, assistant superintendent of student support services, an officer's tool belt is used to do their job and a gun is a part of their uniform but he said they will continue to address that concern in future meetings.

Bhayani also criticized the fact that the data provided in the update, which showed how most students felt comfortable around cops, did not include data based on race and ethnicity.

This sparked heated discussion from board members on the need of even having officers at schools.

"As we have seen from recent events and continued events, having an armed officer on campus doesn't protect you from an intruder who is intent on causing harm to students and staff," Trustee Joan Laursen said. "It's bad enough that we were afraid to send our kids to school because of a virus that we couldn't see, and now we can't send our children to school and be safe from a gunman."

She stressed on the need to identify people who are becoming radicalized in white supremacy and how to protect students and staff from people who "go off the deep end and have access to guns."

However, Carreon and Maher both agreed that the data is showing huge improvements on school counselors working with those resource officers and that removing them shouldn't be an option. Rather, they should look to see what they can improve.

"In my own mind, I trust a police officer who has been trained in that area to handle that situation," Maher said.

Board President Mark Miller said there needs to be more data and push to have students take surveys and voice concerns so that there can be more conversations around resource officers at schools.


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