On May 7, the Palo Verde Unified School District (PVUSD) Board of Trustees received a progress report on the current status of special education processes and the services’ encompassing outlook moving forward.

As introduced by PVUSD Special Education Supervisor Edward Singh and presented by Dr. Judy Elliot, the report provided the governing board with an updated view into the progressing process infrastructure the special education system has had implemented.

“We concentrated on (the) three areas that we highlighted last year as a result of the report. And they were the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE); the Individual Education Program (IEP) process; and assessment decision making,” said Elliot. “We really wanted to look at remedying the non-compliance and inequities in the district through these processes that we know really needed to get looked at.”

The LRE concept essentially states the positive growth for students with disabilities is correlated to two primary factors — 1) quality of education, and 2) the degree to which they are included in general education.

The progress points reported regarding PVUSD’s LRE-specific improvement efforts included:

• Training, coaching and support for all teachers on direct instruction (explicit instruction);

• Training, coaching and support for principals on direct instruction, standards and curriculum;

• Starting an in-depth curriculum training for high school teachers/staff in ELA (English Language Arts) and mathematics materials (next year to be districtwide);

• Collaboration and support from the Riverside County Office of Education in training on deconstruction of curriculum, mapping standards into lesson plans and instructional delivery;

• High school master schedule changes allowing for acceleration, as well as intense reading and math support;

• Teaching Works — equitable access to robust first instruction with a lens on implicit bias and its impact on students.

“A lot of times, when we’re looking at sort of fixing systems, we tend to look at the kids that are doing the least well. And in this world, what we have to really make sure of is balancing it. That we’re looking at our higher-able kids and pushing them to higher levels while providing opportunities for our kids at-risk that need those opportunities,” said Elliot. “(This is the) super important work that’s building that frame around the Least Restrictive Environment.”

PVUSD’s 2016-2017 versus 2017-2018 LRE comparison data noted a drop in students with disabilities being taught in the most restrictive placement environments, from 31 percent to 29.3 percent respectively.

Nationwide, the same figure is at 14 percent; statewide, the figure is at 22 percent.

“While people may say, ‘Well, that’s (only 1.7 percent)’ — that (29.3) is huge. It’s good movement in the right direction,” noted Elliot.

Additionally, the data presented showed PVUSD has increased students with disabilities being taught in the more ideal general education setting between 40-79 percent of the time from 13 percent in 2016-2017, to 16.7 percent in 2017-2018 (+3.7 percent improvement margin).

“That means that there’s some good work going on and we’re looking at inclusivity and moving students to more appropriate placement,” said Elliot.

PVUSD’s chronic absenteeism rate for students with disabilities was also noted to have taken a substantial drop, from 2016-2017’s 32.4 percent to 2017-2018’s 24 percent.

Further, PVUSD’s focused efforts toward addressing chronic absenteeism across all students showed a 5.2 improvement from 2016-2017’s 20.4 percent to 2017-2018’s 15.2 percent.

Regarding the previous year’s alarming Riverside County Office of Education review of 357 of PVUSD’s IEP’s — of which, 295 were found to be in need of attention (83 percent), summed up with 500 noted related issues (i.e. late assessments, fixes in IEP, et al.) — Elliot reported 99 percent of those issues to have been resolved as of May 1, 2019.

“That’s amazing work that’s been done around that. We have made some really nice progress in this area,” said Elliot.

Points of progress highlighted in PVUSD’s IEP infrastructure included:

• Dedicated preschool assessment team in place, resulting in 100 percent of pre-school students assessed in kindergarten to first grade transition;

• High school transition into post-secondary education now includes invitations and participation of community colleges, the inland Regional Center, and the Imperial County Department of Rehabilitation;

• Riverside County Office of Education support in growing capacity IEP teams while correcting the 500 found issues;

• Riverside County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) providing IEP 101 training to schools;

• And, for the first time in approximately 12 years, para-educators are being involved in district training.

“So this year there was a dedicated assessment team for pre-school only, that included a state pathologist and psychologist that resulted in 100 percent of your pre-school kids getting assessed before going into kindergarten. Kudos to that; that’s major — and that’s because we change the infrastructure around that work,” reported Elliot.

With respect to improving the students’ assessments process and according decision making, PVUSD’s latest implementations — some of which began this year in the second semester — include:

• A new multi-disciplinary, collaborative team made up of group members who write up reports and assessment plans versus only a psychologist and one person (which began in January 2019);

• New Student Success Teams (SST) made up of members who get together to ensure progress in learning (which also began in January 2019);

• A codified 504 process, which is a plan developed to ensure a student receives according accommodations to maximize his/her success and access at a learning environment;

• The Riverside County Office of Education’s continuing partnership to further develop the Health Plans and IEP;

• And PVUSD principals are now leading the SST and IEP processes.

“There’s been a lot of work that’s been done; and we’re not done yet. We’re just beginning to solidify these areas,” said Elliot. “We need to continue to sure-up our areas of multi-disciplinary teams to make sure there’s fidelity to the assessments process. That everybody does what they’re supposed to do every time an assessment comes along. That we don’t have any slippage in that; and so I think we still have a little bit more work to strengthen that capacity. The other area that I would say is a bit disconcerting, having sat in rather large chairs in large districts — you have about 40 students right now in the district (with) health plans that have asthma-related health issues that have not yet been updated.”

As reported by Elliot, California Education Code mandates all health plans to be updated by the beginning of the school year.

“There’s 40 of those (PVUSD) students with asthma who have not had their health plan updated, which is a liability issue were something to happen with those students,” noted Elliot.

A point of clarity was made by Singh, providing to the board that the teachers of those 40 students know of the condition but the health plans themselves had yet to be signed off on. Palo Verde High School (PVHS) Principal Rachel Angel also noted the high school teachers of those students were sent according asthmatic and food allergies response training to mitigate potential issues.

Notably, PVUSD efforts discovered 125 students with previously unidentified health related issues who now have plans and safeguard provisions in place.

Moving forward, the district intends to continue putting a concerted effort on tracking the infrastructure’s data, maintaining the new systems in place, and continuing to build the skills with leadership to provide equitable education for all students.

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