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Ensuring a Free and Appropriate Education (02-20-20)


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Shannon Haber, 213-241-6766                                       February 20, 2020


Ensuring a Free and Appropriate Education for All Students

Superintendent Austin Beutner discusses how Los Angeles Unified can better serve the needs of students with disabilities

 California State Director of Special Education Kristin Wright and
Dean of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education
Dr. Shari Tarver Behring participate in the discussion

Wide-ranging conversation highlights efforts
to expand inclusive practices and increase parent involvement


NORTHRIDGE – Superintendent Austin Beutner of Los Angeles Unified and Dr. Shari Tarver Behring, dean of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education at California State University, Northridge, had a far-ranging discussion today with senior leaders and special guests, including California State Director of Special Education Kristin Wright, about the education of students with disabilities.

Through its special-education efforts, Los Angeles Unified serves the unique needs of more than 70,000 students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These services support students with learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, and health or emotional issues as they prepare for the future.

From 1993 through 2019, Los Angeles Unified’s special-education program was overseen by a court-appointed monitor. In December 2019, the court recognized Los Angeles Unified’s progress in providing consistent and high-quality special-education services and ended its oversight of the program.

“While we remain committed to the highest standard of compliance, the next chapter of our work in support of students with disabilities will be guided by families and educators, not lawyers,” Superintendent Beutner said. “The work at schools has to be our focus.”

Much of the discussion, including a panel led by classroom educators from schools in Los Angeles Unified, focused on the work being done to include students with IEPs in classrooms with their general education peers. To support continued progress, Los Angeles Unified is spending additional money on professional development and common planning time for educators. The lessons learned from the work on inclusive practices in almost 100 schools in Los Angeles Unified will be shared with educators in all schools.

Los Angeles Unified is poised to build on the progress and has participated for the past year in the California Department of Education’s Supporting Inclusive Practice Project, which supports California districts in increasing access and outcomes for students with disabilities. Los Angeles Unified intends to focus on strengthening the IEP process. As a next step, Los Angeles Unified is forming a working group with educators, families and  support providers to identify ways to improve the IEP to create a more student-centered and meaningful IEP – with a focus on preparing students with disabilities for successful employment and a good life. This workgroup will provide recommendations which could help inform special education policy at the state level.

“This is an opportunity to improve educational results and post-secondary outcomes for our students by providing a student-centered IEP that is strength-based and built in collaboration with parents, educators and support providers,” Superintendent Beutner said.

“I am encouraged by the proactive leadership and innovation Los Angeles Unified is demonstrating through its participation in the CDE’s Supporting Inclusive Practices Project and its ongoing commitment to improving access and outcomes for students with disabilities,” Wright said. “We look forward to the continued partnership.”

The event also featured a panel discussion among Los Angeles Unified educators who have implemented inclusive practices at their schools.

“We have high expectations and goals for our special education students, and an inclusive classroom provides more opportunities for us to support them,” said Leo Gonzalez, the principal of South Gate High School, which implemented an inclusion program at the start of the school year. “Professional development for our teachers is crucial. They need time to collaborate on assessments and plan lessons that will help our students be successful in the future.”

Special-education teacher Dawn Little, who is paired with a general-education teacher at Lassen Elementary School in North Hills, said the inclusionary practices in their kindergarten classroom help students develop social skills, along with math and reading.

“Students with special needs are learning to play with other students, to raise their hands and ask questions,” Little said. “Their general-education peers learn to collaborate and to help each other. They realize that we all learn in different ways, but we’re all learning together.”


Click here for a video of the conversation.

Click here for information on special education funding.

Click here for information on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.