School district aims for more inclusion

A number of seats in next year’s round of campus assignments will be set aside for special-education students — at the possible expense of general-education youths vying for a spot at one of their preferred schools.

In a report delivered to the Board of Education in September, independent auditors called the current system in which many special-education students are grouped in separate classrooms “outdated.”

Setting aside seats for special-education youths classified as “inclusion” students in certain grade levels is one way to improve the old system, according to Cecelia Dodge, assistant superintendent for special education.

The “inclusion” classification allows special-education students to participate in regular classroom settings and activities. Nearly 200 special-education students, out of the 7,000 in the district, are eligible for “inclusion” status in kindergarten and sixth and ninth grades.

The reserved seats for these students will be released after a certain time period, allowing for transfers and changes to special-education designations. Exactly how many seats will be reserved and where has yet to be determined, according to district staff.

Special-education spaces also will be distributed across all schools, and not limited to 39 elementary, middle and high schools, as they are now, giving students more choice in the district, Dodge said.

Some board members fear the special treatment might further set apart special-education students from others, rather than bringing them into the mainstream.

“We have to start somewhere,” school board member Rachel Norton said. “It still seems we’re in this place where we are treating students differently.”

Norton, though, said change needs to come, and Dodge agreed, saying if the district waited longer the changes might never happen.

Board of Education member Sandra Lee Fewer said the new policy is something that needs to happen.

“I think it’s important we do [hold seats],” Fewer said. “It’s important we have a mix of students.”

Room to learn

7,000: Special-education students in the SFUSD
55,000: SFUSD student population
180: Students listed for “inclusion”
Undetermined: Seats to be saved for such students

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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