Special education program lost in Point Dume charter debate


What will happen to the preschool special education program at Point Dume elementary has not been addressed in the charter petition process.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

Lost in the recent debate over Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School’s potential conversion to charter status has been a small but important program, the special needs pre-school that operates at PDMSE.

Under the guidance of director Lakin Crane, the program currently serves 10 children between the ages of 3 and 5, with conditions ranging from attention deficit disorder to severe autism. It is the only public special needs pre-school in Malibu, serving children from throughout the city.

The program is funded entirely by federal and state funds, in accordance with federal legislation enacted in 1975 that guarantees a free, “appropriate” (i.e., individually tailored) public education to all children with disabilities. By law, the government must provide special needs education at no expense to children who qualify, beginning at 3 years old.

The petition that seeks charter status for PDMSE, however, does not include a pre-school, special-needs or otherwise, in its plans. When asked by The Malibu Times, Crane said nobody involved in the charter petition drive had consulted her or her assistants during planning or discussions regarding the petition.

“As far as I know, my program is not included in the charter,” Crane said. “They will have to address special ed to a certain extent, because they have students in their elementary school that have special needs now, but my program is not included.”

PDMSE parent Robyn Ross, one of the leaders of the charter petition movement, confirmed that petitioners never spoke with Crane during planning meetings and discussions. But Ross said they did attempt to contact the school district’s director for special education, but “she never returned our calls.”

Ross said the pre-school was not included in the charter because “it’s not part of our school program. It’s just a district-run program that they place on our site. It’s not part of our program, but we coexist beautifully.” Because law mandates special needs education, the program has to be provided in Malibu. Crane believes the district would simply move the program to one of the other elementary schools, Webster or Juan Cabrillo. Most likely it would be Juan Cabrillo, since there are already extensive K-5 special education programs in place at that school.

Another option would be to keep the special needs pre-school at Point Dume, but continue to operate under school district supervision and funding.

“I don’t know what their plans are at the district level, but we welcome the pre-school to be there for as long as possible,” Ross said.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Jan Maez confirmed that the pre-school would remain under district supervision, but did not know if it would remain at the Point Dume classroom or relocate to one of the other Malibu schools.

“We haven’t gotten that far in our discussions about the use of Point Dume [pending the outcome of the charter appeal],” Maez told The Malibu Times Tuesday.

Crane helped found the program nine years ago. Before then, there was no special needs preschool program here. Parents with special needs children in Malibu had to take them to Santa Monica, or pay for private therapists and educators to serve their children in here.

Originally, Crane would drive to pre-schools in the Malibu area to provide service to special needs children. In response to a couple of children with more urgent needs, a classroom was added two days a week in the former music room at PDMSE. Now the pre-school operates five days a week, four hours a day. It is regarded as highly successful, and Crane estimates at least 70 children have passed through the program since it began.

Malibu resident Candace Kelly’s son Quinn is currently enrolled in the pre-school. Quinn has difficulty with balance and other physical problems as a result of surgery to remove a brain tumor when he was 1 year old. “He’s made huge improvements,” Kelly said. “The director of the preschool is fabulous with him. Very warm and loving and they open their arms to all the kids, like family.”

Crane echoed that sentiment. “I look at each kid as mine, so I look at it as, where do I want my kid in five or 10 years. And then we get them there.”