Like most parents, Maria Tenery worries about the day her 5-year-old daughter Shiloh starts asking her tough questions.
“Why do I look different? Why can’t I do all the things my friends can do?”
These are among those future difficult questions Tenery is already practicing for as a mother of three.
Now, Maria says she worries about a new question: “Why can’t I go to the same school as my brothers and sisters?”
Shiloh has down’s syndrome and her family has just learned she can’t attend her home school or another school nearby where she went to preschool.
San Diego Unified School District plans to consolidate special education classes by area, instead of offering classes to students with moderate to severe learning disabilities at each school.
In a letter sent home to parents, obtained by our media partner Voice of San Diego, Superintendent Cindy Marten explains the plan saying the services provided to students with special needs won’t change, only the location of where those services are provided.
A district spokesman stressed the change is not budget-driven, but meant to benefit kids with special needs. He also confirmed that 30 special education teachers have received pink slips.
“What we discovered when we did a review of our special education classrooms is that we had some classes where there was just one or two children in class alone with a teacher. Best practices for special education say that children should have the opportunity to socialize with their peers the same as any child.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, NBC 7 obtained this list of consolidated schools.
“You are restricting these children to only a certain school because they have special needs. This is wrong,” Tenery said.
Chief Public Information Officer Andrew Sharp said the change was meant to benefit students with special needs.
“It’s in accordance with best practices,” Sharp said. “We thought about what would be best for the special education population. It’s a population that, frankly, we work especially hard to serve.”
Tenery said she thinks the move is going to be bad not just for her daughter but all students at her former school McKinley Elementary, where Shiloh had a great preschool experience. She said it gives regular students a chance to experience and ask questions about students with special needs in a safe and informative environment.
“We can tell them, you know, ‘They’re created different and we love them,” Tenery said. “We build compassion in all students and we treat the students with special needs the same despite their disabilities. So, we’re not just taking away from the students with special needs. We’re taking away the opportunity for other students to engage with kids that are different.”
NBC 7 asked the district spokesman to respond to that concern.
Sharp said: “We have a lot of diversity in our schools and special needs or the special education population is one of the ways that our schools are very diverse. We also have students from 160 different countries and they speak 70 different languages, so we still have a lot of diversity in schools.”
In the district’s letter, the superintendent says the changes will only impact about 220 students among the 15,000 students with learning disabilities that the district serves.