This candidate understands that a one size fits all solution does not work and embraces a full range of special education services.
“I commit to ensuring that the district provide for our students with special education needs the services they need and not abdicate its responsibility to do so by pretending that the stigma of labeling our students as special needs harms them more than failing to provide them with the proper services.”
- Board District 6 Candidate Marvin Rodríguez
On the home page of his campaign website, Board District 6 candidate Marvin Rodriguez states that “the purpose of education should be to make the goals our children set for themselves more attainable.” This is a wonderfully broad statement that provides a jumping-off point that can be inclusive of children with special-education needs. The question then becomes: do the policies promoted by the candidate give all children the support they need as they reach for their full potential?
As a teacher with 15 years of professional experience, Rodriguez certainly has the background to understand that every student has their own unique needs. He also has the secret weapon of a wife who has worked as a special education professional. It should, therefore, not be surprising that his response to my questions about special education was inclusive of all levels of academic abilities.
Rodriguez is very direct in stating that he commits to keeping special education centers fully funded, providing programs that provide collaborative training opportunities for social and occupational growth, and removing any targets aimed at limiting the number of students enrolled in special day classes. He also places a priority on “pushing back against the stigmatization of special day classes and special education centers.”
It would have been interesting to compare Rodriguez’s views with that of his opponent, LAUSD Board President Kelly Gonez, but no response was received from her campaign. Apparently, she is not interested in making this race about her viewpoints. She would rather depend on the campaign money flowing in from the charter school industry to craft a carefully controlled message. This is not the action of an incumbent who is secure in the accomplishments of her first term.
The complete response from Rodriguez is as follows:
When it comes to our students with special education needs, there are benefits to exposing them to the experiences of mainstream campuses. There is social value in bringing our students with special needs and typical learners together. When we do that, we allow our students to collaborate and learn from one another. As with any other student, our students with special needs are provided with a sense of community of acceptance and are given the opportunity to contribute to that community at their full potential. By the same token, our typical students are provided the opportunity to become more aware and empathetic of the experiences of their peers with special needs.
Inclusion into a typical campus can work for students with less severe special needs, especially if we provide for them the option of special day classes. In these special day classes, we can also provide opportunities of inclusion for our general education students to work and collaborate with their special needs peers through peer mentorship programs like the successful ones we implement between upper and underclassmen at the general education level.
However, inclusion does not have to take on the approach of mainstreaming our students with special needs into typical campuses for them to reach their full potential. For many of our students with special needs, especially those with moderate to severe needs, typical school campuses are neither the best nor the soundest option. These students benefit from communities that have the proper resources and support that provide the least restrictive environment for their social, emotional, and academic achievements. These resources and support can include programs that provide our students with the life and job skills necessary to help them participate more independently and fully in their communities.
Our special education centers already provide those opportunities for our students with special needs. A good example of what our special education centers do for our students with special needs are the myriad of life and work skills training programs offered at Diane Leichman Career and Transition Center in Reseda. There, our students receive all the support they need to reach their full potential. And parents can count on that support to be the best option for their children to succeed.
If inclusion is what we’re afraid of losing, we can bring it into our special education centers as well. We can fund our special education centers in a way that creates opportunities for collaboration and learning between general education students interested in pursuing careers in special education and students with special needs. There, we can also provide collaborative training in areas of social and occupational growth for all students.
Our campaign is committed to a new vision of public education. We believe in the power of community in our schools. We look to build communities of resources and support for our students in all our district’s schools. Therefore, I commit to keeping our special education centers fully funded and the option of attending them made available to parents during the IEP process. I commit to ensuring that students enrolled in special education centers have exposure to their typical peers through programs that provide collaborative training opportunities for social and occupational growth to them. I commit to removing any targets aimed at limiting the number of students enrolled in special day classes. Most importantly, I commit to the full support of our students with moderate to severe special needs by pushing back against the stigmatization of special day classes and special education centers. I commit to ensuring that the district provide for our students with special education needs the services they need and not abdicate its responsibility to do so by pretending that the stigma of labeling our students as special needs harms them more than failing to provide them with the proper services.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.