Investigation of LAUSD upholds complaints that special education falling short

File photo: A new report by a court-ordered monitor calls on Los Angeles Unified to address problems with the program that serves special education students.
File photo: A new report by a court-ordered monitor calls on Los Angeles Unified to address problems with the program that serves special education students.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The Office of the Independent Monitor overseeing court-ordered improvements to Los Angeles Unified’s special education services found students still aren't getting the services they need, and it ordered the district to carry out a series of improvements.

In a report released Wednesday following an investigation into complaints filed on behalf of the children, the office said parents aren’t treated as equal partners in meetings that lay out services for the district's 85,000 special education students.

The independent monitor's office also said district representatives in Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings — a key part of the  process for setting services — aren't given the authority to allocate school resources to help students as required by the federal law covering the education of children with disabilities.

“For example, a student might be needing speech services. So in some cases, the speech services personnel might be constrained by limited resources…so the provider in the meeting might feel constrained in recommending everything a child might need,” said David Rostetter, who heads the Office of Independent Monitor.

Rostetter's office called for numerous changes to the district's procedures, including more training for school officials, some of whom student advocates say lack the knowledge to properly carry out the requirements of the law.

Rostetter said in a letter accompanying the report that the school district and lawyers who represent special education students had reached a consensus on steps to fix the problems. 

An LAUSD spokeswoman said Superintendent Ramon Cortines will comment after he reads the independent monitor's findings. The students' lawyers could not be immediately reached for comment.

The report rolls out as LAUSD faces rising costs to provide services for special education students. Last year, the budget for its special education division stood at $1.4 billion, about 20 percent of the district's educational expenses.

Meanwhile, the concentration of special education students in the district is growing as the general pupil population declines and other trends take hold. Sharyn Howell, head of the district's special education department, said in December that the “math does not look good.” 

Rostetter said the school district has embraced the recommendations to improve the way it provides special education services.

“There will be training provided for personnel to make sure that appropriate procedures are followed. There will be a review of all procedures and we gave a lot of direction about how that had to be fixed — that’s being undertaken,” Rostetter said.

The report said LAUSD’s special education division has greatly improved the services for special ed in recent years. The district fell under court-ordered monitoring after a 1996 lawsuit revealed widespread problems in providing services to students with disabilities.

Of the 717,000 special education students in California public schools, about 10 percent attend LAUSD schools.