We need real inclusion in the San Mateo-Foster City School District

San Mateo Foster City School District Board of Trustees


California was an early pioneer in giving disabled people rights and access to education. But things have drifted since those early days in the 1970s. Now, we are lagging in many areas for empowering “The Forgotten Fifth” – the 20 percent of our community members living with disability.

California has the most segregated education system for kids with disabilities in the US – 20.7 percent of California’s disabled kids are in highly segregated classrooms compared to the national average of 13.4 percent*.

Even worse, our own San Mateo Foster City School District is even more segregated than California as a while – 27.65 percent of our disabled students are in highly segregated classrooms – more than twice the national average.

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This is not just a couple of students, this is close to 10 percent of our District's students – more than 1000 kids including preschool – and even those who are included in general education classes are performing vastly below their peers (104 points below the standard for English Language Arts… and Math is even worse)***.

And segregation (as opposed to inclusion) has real consequences for students. According to the National Council on Disability, kids in segregated classes get 50 percent fewer minutes of academic instruction each day**.

Start behind, get behind-er

Ramps help everyone

Just like ramps in our streets help many people (babies in strollers, the elderly, me with a bunch of groceries), better education for disabled students benefits all students.

There are other school districts (and states) which have switched over to structured literacy programs to help kids with dyslexia (up to 20 percent of kids according to some studies). Instead of just using the program for students with dyslexia, they used the program for everyone.

… and found that ALL students did better.****

Now, inclusive education for students with disabilities is not going to magically close our performance gap. Our school district faces real, complex challenges, but they are not insurmountable.

Becoming a leader

Make no mistake, changing our culture and relationship with disability is going to take time and attention. There is no magic bullet. Our school board hasn't taken the time to focus on the complexity of the issue. The first and ONLY presentation on special education happened the night after the last day of school on 20 June 201912 high level slides and hours after the meeting started…. they didn’t even mention the budget.

This in spite of numerous public comments from parents, teachers, and staff on a wide range of special education issues throughout the year including school safety, academic performance, and staffing among other issues.

There are lots of challenges for a public school district, but special education and disabled students need the District’s attention – the school board must be accountable the public it represents.

But, special education and disability issues need focus – accountable to the school board and the public.

We need a group of parents, teachers, staff, community members, and subject matter experts to work out how to transform our District into a leader.

We need a District Advisory Committee for Disability and Special Education to ensure accountability and better education for ALL students.

* Page 182 of "40th Annual Report to Congress of the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2018". Highly segregated classes are those where students spend less than 40 percent of their time with their general education peers. In San Mateo Foster City, it is often the case that students spend NO time with their peers, go on NO field trips, and have an educational curriculum with very low expectations.

** Page 39 of "The IDEA Series: Segregation of Students with Disabilities, National Council on Disability, 7 February 2018"

*** California School Dashboard for San Mateo-Foster City School District (2018)

**** “3 ways educators nationwide are working to disrupt dyslexia”

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To: San Mateo Foster City School District Board of Trustees
From: [Your Name]

Please make better education for our students with disabilities a priority. We want our San Mateo Foster City School District to provide an excellent education for ALL our students.

The first step you can take today is to act on the DSEDAC Resolution – https://snkids.org/dsedac/ – at your earliest opportunity.

The people of Foster City and San Mateo deserve effective, accountable, focused, and inclusive oversight of the education of our disabled students.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.