Dozens of special education teachers get new schools — this week

Just days before reporting to work, 26 of the Oakland school district’s 76 special education resource teachers have received major assignment changes — most, if not all, involving at least one new school, according to the Oakland teachers union’s new president, Trish Gorham.

Linda Grayson, who has worked with special needs children in general education classes at Brookfield and Markham elementary schools — some of them, for three years — said she received a letter Saturday informing her she’d be moved to Global Family, Korematsu and Esperanza.

The letter came as a shock, she said, as she’d been told in June that she’d be returning to the two schools; she’d already held a meeting with the principal of Markham about plans for the year.

“Now we have our most vulnerable children coming back to this,” Grayson said. (She also noted that nearly all of the families at her new schools are Spanish speaking, and that she doesn’t speak Spanish.)

I’ve been getting emails and calls about this development from people concerned that it will undermine the relationships and trust built between families, general education teachers, resource specialists and other staff members. Some, I’m told, will turn out to tomorrow night’s school board meeting.

Here’s what OUSD spokesman Troy Flint reported last night in response to my query about the special education department, whose official name is Programs for Exceptional Children, or PEC. When he has a more detailed response about why this happened, I’ll post that too:

There were an unusually high number of reassignments involving PEC staff. Letters informing staff of the reassignments were sent last week. I’m still gathering information on the rationale for the change, the number of people impacted and some of the details involved with this process, so I can’t give a comprehensive explanation at this time. Suffice to say, there were some major shortcomings in the way this was handled.

Has this shift affected your school?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Cherin Kelley

    I am a Resource Specialist who has not yet received an assignment letter (today is Tuesday). I was told that my school was reassigned to another specialist. In the past 7 years this is my 3rd assignment. At all my schools, I work hard to build community and continuity and act as a voice to the students who are so often misunderstood. Like Linda I have attended special workshops with my staff over the summer to be on the same page as them in the fall and to make sure my students understand changes that will occur in the curriculum. I am very sadden to loose my school. Additionally, for all of the students where teachers have been reassigned there will be a loss in actual support time because all of us will have to pack up our sites and then unpack and organize at another site. This is very disruptive especially if the past specialist has a unorganized system and a lot of excess junk in their rooms. This has happened to me at all of my moves.

    I have no idea whose idea it was to cause so much disruption in our program and to let us (or not let us know) a few days before school starts. Like others I was give my assignment last June and I was to go back to my school. yes I am very sadden and extremely disillusioned in the treatment we are receiving.

  • Use Your Voice

    I wonder if the $4 or $8 million Special Education accounting error is leading to this painful and disruptive reassignment of so many teachers. Was only one person really in charge of a $75 million budget? Ouch!

    If the special ed. accounting error is the cause of so many painful and illogical reassignments, sites are paying the price. This is bad for kids and school communities.

    Has anyone heard that OUSD has the biggest central office in Alameda County, along with the lowest per-pupil funding? It would seem that district office cuts would be needed in addition to school closures. Reassigning resource teachers is bad for schools.

  • Patricia Jensen

    It was so disheartening to read this. These hasty reassignments, obviously decided without teacher input, are damaging on so many levels to teachers, students and their families, and the school community. How demoralizing to get such a letter a week before school starts. When teachers are treated like this, it has a negative effect on other teachers in the district. It makes it much more difficult to work with, or even want to work with, administration. We can’t keep treating each other like this in our district.

  • Emily Sacks

    I was assigned an additional school that I found out about on Saturday. This school will put me over my caseload limit (28 students) by 5 students. The decision to put me over my caseload is especially surprising at the start of the school year when Resource Specialists inevitably acquire additional students as the year goes on. I also have many friends who were transfered away from their schools completely.

    I am incredibly disheartened by these decisions. The letter we received from the district (dated August 15) states, “As you are aware, student needs change, and we must ensure that we meet their needs promptly and fully.” I am not sure how I am supposed to fully meet the needs of my students when I am assigned to 5 students over the legal limit. I am also unsure how transferring a teacher away from a school where they have built relationships with both students and staff best meets the needs of students. I am an ally in the district’s supposed-mission of establishing “community schools” and “thriving students” but it is hard to see how either goal can be accomplished when many teachers are provided with conditions that make it nearly impossible to be successful. I hope we can work together to fix the damage this decision is sure to cause. At the very least, I am glad to see that Troy Flint’s statement shows he is investigating the matter and he is not automatically defending what I feel are a series of incredibly careless decisions.

  • Baffled_SPED_teacher

    I am exceptionally disheartened by this, especially since I have to set it next to a number of other instances in which I’ve seen my special education colleagues treated in cavalier and capricious manners by those in positions to do so. At my site, the Resource Specialist has provided continuity and support for a number of deeply challenged and challenging students who are wending their ways through the special education maze towards, we hope, more appropriate services–it is going to cause inordinate amounts of delay and disruption to rupture these relationships for no apparent reason.

    PEC, I genuinely want to believe we’re on the same page here, for the good of Oakland’s children. It’s, um, getting really hard for me to do that.

  • Nontcair

    I have no experience with severely special needs kids.

    For the love of peace get those unfortunate kids FAR AWAY from OUSD.

    1) The OUSD bureaucracy has a perverse (financial) incentive to label mild cases, or even just “normal” kids, as special needs.

    2) OUSD can’t even teach obviously normal kids how to read. The sort of torture it inflicts on kids of lesser abilities I can only imagine.

    Hey, parents of special needs kids! Find your kid a good private tutor, preferably one who has no sort of education “credential”. One who’s willing to work on a sliding scale, or even for free. Like a retiree or someone who can teach a few hours per week in the evening after her day job or UC class has finished.

    Your kid would be much better off.

    Don’t ask *anything* of OUSD except maybe to provide some sort of one-on-one daycare.

  • Nontcair

    1a) Don’t let OUSD label your basically normal kid as “special needs” and thereby ruin him for life.

  • http://www.saveoaklandschools.org Tim Terry

    Just days before reporting for work, one-third of our special education resource teachers have been arbitrarily reassigned to new schools without regard to the needs of these students and their families. In caring for these children it takes various layers of teams of support working together. Years to build. Moments to destroy. All in a disturbing and disgraceful attempt to create upheaval and push these teachers and students out of the district.

    What Jody London and Tony fail to do in terms of fighting for resources, meeting their mandatory 55% requirement for direct classroom spending or doing anything to change the 48% drop out rate for African American males, they make up for in creating lawsuits for themselves. The current attack on Special Education is a gross violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the States Education Code. The law specifically prohibits these kinds of “haphazard” actions. Board members and their superintendent should be held personally liable for the backhanded way they are singling out our special needs population. The current assault is eerily similar to the disparate treatment of people of color through school closings which is the subject of another pending lawsuit.

    With no regard for the years of relationships and trust built between families, general education teachers, resource specialists and other staff members, this heartless board wields its axe again and again. OUSD spokesman and house boy Troy Flint could not provide any explanation for this unnecessary upheaval – because there isn’t one! Flint could only admit “there were some major shortcomings in the way this was handled.” These “shortcomings” have real costs to lives and communities. Death by a thousand cuts. This board along with its charter school affiliations are dismantling our public education system at an alarming rate.

    Students with disabilities and their families do not have the extra resources to fight this on their own. The community must stand with them and work to make sure District 1 does not return Jody London to the board come November.

  • J.R.

    The reality is, there are more basically “normal” kids being labeled “special needs” because:

    1. There is a perverse financial incentive for the district to do so.

    2. it creates more positions and jobs




    I am not and never would blame the Spec Ed system(One of my own children is Spec Ed)and they do a very good job most of the time. I would say however that the parameters for student classification are a little too broad and vague.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’d like to remind everyone to keep their comments civil and free of name-calling.

  • Sue

    Please, anyone who is posting: “I have no experience with severely special needs kids.” has nothing useful or meaningful to contribute to the conversation. Everything else in that post was completely 180-degrees opposite my family’s experiences.

    Autism is considered a severe, life-long disability. My autistic son is now 20, and a college sophomore with a 3.67 GPA. He’s where he is today because of 14 years in OUSD receiving PEC services. (and because my husband and I were very skilled and determined advocates for the services he needed) That was pre-school, kindergarten and 1st through 3rd grade in communication handicap (CH) special day classes. In 4th grade he was ready for full inclusion in a mainstream classroom – with support from a one-on-one aide. Every year he did better than the year before. His junior year of high school his GPA was 3.67, and his senior year he had a perfect 4.0.

    Sometimes the district had to be pressured to do what was needed, but they served my kid *very* well, and I saw many of his peers getting the same quality of services. It came from the teachers who were in the classrooms with our kids every single day. They are awesome. No way could a private non-credentialed “tutor” have given my son a better education or outcome (assuming our family could have found a way to pay for one, short of robbing banks and 7-11’s).

    I truly hate seeing and hearing about this mess, and hope we’ll see as little impact on the teachers and students as possible. I know the teachers will work for that, and I hope the district will step up and do what’s necessary to support the teachers after this awful disruption.

    Now it’s up to the families to hold the district accountable.

  • Baffled_SPED_teacher

    It needs to be known that equally capricious decisions were made involving the paraprofessionals who support our students with special needs: Katy, can I suggest that you contact the union reps for paras? They are an equally crucial part of student success, and I am outraged to discover that many of them are receiving similar treatment with even less public response.

  • Nontcair

    #8 wrote This board along with its charter school affiliations are dismantling our public education system at an alarming rate.

    Unfortunately our public education system is being assembled at an equally alarming rate. Get back to me when lower public education expenditures start being reflected in lower taxes.

    I have no experience as the *parent* of a special needs kid, but I’ve known a few such parents in and out of OUSD. Let’s just say that my opinion is based on *their* negative experiences.

  • A coding error

    As usual, this is improvisation. One would have expected them to start the year with some energy after the summer, some sense of direction. No. The central office is a huge cover-up for mishaps and mishandling. If only people knew, for real.
    Where are we headed to with this obscene level of low-expectations? When is the BOE asking the questions?

  • Nontcair

    #11 wrote: [#6] was completely 180-degrees opposite my family’s experiences.

    I’m sure we’re all delighted with your son’s accomplishments, but your experience was 180° opposite those other families’ experiences.

  • J.R.

    Someone needs to expose the inner workings of the district office, this would be a huge public service and might go a long way in changing the culture of apathy(which results in widespread mediocrity and or failure).