Special Needs Survey Highlighted at School Board Meeting

South Pasadena Council PTA Special Needs Committee Chair Sara Austin (left) presents an annual survey report to Executive Secretary to the Superintendent Sylvia Carroll (from left), Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Christiane Gervais, Board Member Dr. Ruby Kalra, Board Member Zahir Robb, Superintendent Dr. Geoff Yantz and Board President Dr. Suzie Abajian at the School Board Meeting at the district office March 12. Photo by Skye Hannah

The annual survey report by the South Pasadena Council PTA Special Needs Committee was presented at the South Pasadena School Board meeting March 12 at the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) office. Highlights of the report included an improvement in consistent case reporting to parents, high parental satisfaction with special education teachers, and some issues with accommodation awareness in general education classes.

The report was presented by Committee Chair Sara Austin, a parent whose son is on the autism spectrum and previously attended pre-K at Arroyo Vista Elementary School. The survey featured the option of selecting from strongly agree to strongly disagree on a multitude of issues and included space for written comments.

Austin shared that over 90 percent of parents expressed positive feedback on how students with special needs were attended to and supported within SPUSD.

“If you’re getting a 90 to 96 percent positive rate, you’re doing something pretty good,” said Austin.

In the presentation, Austin shared that a struggle in the past has been consistent case reporting to parents. The survey showed advances in that area.

“We’ve really seen a marked improvement over the last few years and the case carriers and the administrators really should be congratulated for really bringing that to the mark,” said Austin.

Parents also expressed high levels of satisfaction with special education teachers, staff and administrators.  “They described them as supportive, proactive, communicative—all the good words,” Austin shared.

The issues of accommodations brought up in the survey touched on parents reporting that some teachers and staff are not aware of the need for some special education students to take tests in other locations or their requirements for taking notes differently based on their ability.

“We’re looking at possibly training and supporting general education teachers so they can have the skills and the motivation and the support of our administration to carry out these accommodations,” said Austin. “Obviously, we ask a lot of our teachers and this is yet another thing, but I think this is about making inclusion part of every day in every classroom rather than something we do over in special ed.”

School Board President Dr. Suzie Abajian shared appreciation for the survey and said it was “very informative.”

“Even though we’re glad that we’re doing so well in so many areas, we always want to hear feedback on how we can improve our services,” said Abajian.

Board Member Dr. Ruby Kalra said the survey was an important way to highlight the needs of special education students. She referenced her own son who needed accommodations to take tests outside the classroom while at South Pasadena High School but struggled to speak up.

“A lot of times it came down for the burden to be on him and, as a high school student, he didn’t often feel comfortable to be in some way stigmatized, to have to be the one to go up and say, ‘Can I go somewhere else to take my test?’ and so he often let his accommodations go,” said Kalra. “So, I think it’s important that we highlight this for the staff and teachers to help students to be able to use their accommodations in general ed.”

Austin pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that during high school many students are still learning how to advocate for themselves. This can be especially challenging, she said, when combined with cognitive development difficulties and shyness regarding making demands of those in positions of authority.

“I think high school can be an especially difficult time for that reason because kids are feeling out their independence but maybe don’t quite have the self-confidence to explain this,” Austin said.

The Special Needs Committee of the South Pasadena Council PTA was formally voted to be a standing subcommittee of the PTA Council in 2004. The committee coordinates monthly support group meetings, an informational website with resources, and an email list where families can be informed of news and updates.

For more information, visit www.spp4snc.com.



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