Malibuites spearhead special education complaints

Several Malibu mothers patiently waited until midnight last Thursday to tell the Board of Education about Malibu High School’s noncompliance with legislation protecting special education students.

The mothers were used to waiting.

For more than a year, they had been telling the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the board about the 13 violations, 11 originating at Malibu High School. Their appeal for government monitoring of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) brought this official report to the board.

“Since October 1998, so much has been promised and nothing has been done,” said Lonnie Osterman, stating she removed one of her two children from the school before filing complaints. “I am here to caution you not to take a Band-Aid approach. Overall indifference has forced us to look to the state and federal government for intervention. It’s a failed system that needs a major overhaul.”

According to the chart of complaints presented to the school board, the violations include:

  • Failure to implement accommodation modifications, specific education instruction and individual transition plans for students leaving the school district;
  • Failure to provide adaptive technology within the science setting, weekly progress reports and pupil records within the required timelines of parent requests; and
  • Failure to treat acute health problems.

Corrective actions range from reimbursing parents for expenses (more than $3,500 for one complaint) to mailing documentation.

“I have spoken to you several times since October 1998, since the parents first came to the board,” said Malibu High School Principal Michael Matthews. “Our goal is to prevent complaints from ever happening again.”

Matthews then outlined issues and actions of improvement. They include:

  • Respect for the children. “Parents gave me specific examples,” Matthews said. “They met with the staff a few days. You could have heard a pin drop. We have continued our discussions.”
  • Teachers were unaware of the special education requirements. Now students and teachers get together regularly. He and Assistant Principal Gloria Martinez sit in, Matthews said.
  • Providing computers.
  • Bringing in specialists to educate staff.
  • Making the test area more quiet by having carrels in the room.
  • Splitting the biology course, required for graduation, into an honors course and a regular course.
  • Providing Books on Tape and the special recorders needed to play them. Matthews reported he was told by the district, “Money is no object” in getting the books. After Matthews’ presentation, parent Leslie Coogan told the board everything was available for free from the Braille Institute.
  • Monitoring compliance. Noting how the number of personnel changes at the school have placed an added burden on meeting special education requirements, Matthews said Martinez is devoting at least half a day on compliance. “It is our top priority,” Matthews said.

Parent Judy Pace hinted at the depth of the problem. “I am sorry to say that this is the tip of the iceberg. Many more parents would have filed complaints but were afraid of reprisal.”

She then called for replacement of the special education director from “outside the district” and said, “Remember, each complaint has a face.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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