Poway's Special Ed Program Dumping Ground For Kids?
Parents Say Program Deserves Failing Grade
9:12 AM, Jul 17, 2006
Westview High School is a relatively new and shinning star in the Poway Unified School District, which is known for its high standards and excellent record of educating kids. "We've got fantastic kids here, wonderfully dedicated teachers. It's a system that I think works," associate superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly said. This year, the California Department of Education rated Westview High School and 31 other schools in the district as excellent. It also gave the district's special education program high grades.But some parents told 10News that Poway's special education program is a wasteland where kids are dumped. They said it deserves a failing grade, according to 10News. Parents and students said the district doesn't know what to do about kids who are not mentally disabled, but who cannot learn in a regular classroom setting. Jason Stewart is one of those kids who said they've been left in the dark to fend for themselves. "They didn't teach me anything. They didn't help me out," he said. A senior at Westview, Stewart should be graduating this week with his friends, but he won't be. "I see my friends going to college, and I can't even graduate from high school. It's horrible," he said. "Poway is finding in his 12th year (of education) that my son has severe vision processing deficits that they were responsible for finding way back in the first grade," Jason's mother, Lindsey Stewart, said. Jason wants to learn, but his mind has trouble grasping what he sees. Instead, his brain scrambles to process every sound he hears, making it difficult to to focus in the classroom. "I'm smart enough to know I shouldn't be in the special ed class," he said. But over the past 11 years Stewart has been shuffled around from regular classes to special education classes. He said it's made him even more confused and depressed. "I felt rejected by the other kids, because they said, 'Oh, he's a special ed kid,'" Stewart said. At Black Mountain Middle School Stewart became suicidal. "I would just give up sometimes and feel like this is pointless," he said. And while the state gave PUSD rave reviews for special education, the district has been suing students whose parents don't want their children in the special education program. Lindsey Stewart took the fight all the way to the ninth circuit court of appeals. "There's actually three major law firms that are fighting me," she said. PUSD is fighting her with a vengeance by racking up more than $400,000 in legal bills in the Stewart case.But the legal battles don't end with Stewart. Evalyn Smith's children and dozens of other students have been sued or threatened with lawsuits by the district, according to 10News. "It blows my mind how they could sue a student to force them into a special education class," Smith said. Smith said the district has to stop lumping all students together in a "one-size-fits-all" special education program. A total of 25 kids with "learning differences" are involved in lawsuits with the district, 10News reported. According to Skelly, that's not a lot. "To have 25 unhappy parents out of 3,000 -- that we have not been able to resolve with -- I think is very good," Skelly said. Parents and students said more people are afraid to come forward because the district has a record of retaliation. "In my opinion we are retaliated against," Smith said. Retaliation like lawsuits, orders to gavel down parents at school board meetings to quiet them, and security personnel following parents on campus. District officials won't talk about any of the cases, but said the problem stems from a lack of funding, not a lack of caring. "The federal government and the state government do not give us enough money to meet the needs of specialized students," Skelly said. Some parents said they are turning to alternative private schools and getting better results.