Harris takes leave of absence from D.C. job

Phyllis Harris, Oakland’s former special education chief, left OUSD last fall to head up the special education department in Washington, D.C. schools.

”It’s an opportunity to change the special education system in the national capital, which has some improving to do,” she told me at the time.

I don’t know what kind of changes Harris made, but the Washington Post reported that Harris took a sudden leave of absence this month, and that a spokeswoman for Chancellor Michelle Rhee denied a report in The Washington Teacher blog that Harris had been fired.

Two weeks before Harris took her leave, a federal judge reprimanded the D.C. district for failing to make progress on a court order to better serve children with disabilities, the Post reported.

The Post quoted U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman as saying, “My fundamental problem here is the lack of accountability, lack of coordination, Continue Reading


Do special needs kids come second in OUSD?

photo by Alison D. Yin/STAFF

Much ‘ink’ in this forum has been devoted to the question of space: which Oakland children get to attend which public schools.

In June, on the last week of school, district staff told a small group of special education families that the program for blind children with developmental disabilities would be moved out of Montclair Elementary School.

I wrote a story about the controversial relocation, which ran in today’s Tribune. You can read it here.

What do you think about the district’s decision to move the program?


Why he quit OUSD, after 17 years

Jim Farwell, a school psychologist, wrote this essay about his decision to leave the Oakland school district.

In the 17 years that I served as a school psychologist in Oakland’s special education program, I’ve encountered a number of disturbing themes.

I will never forget a staff meeting in which it was announced that children in the middle and high schools who are mandated to receive speech and language services would no longer receive services through the school district. Instead, the parents, many of whom were living under the poverty level, would be given a list of local agencies. The parents would have to pay the $100 fee per visit up front and would be reimbursed at a later time.

How can many parents afford to pay $100 to $200 a week for their child to receive speech and language services?

Then there is the way that Oakland mistreats its teachers. New staff is hired fresh out of college. They are given a six-week “orientation” the summer before the school year begins. These sincere, motivated young people are then placed in special education classes as teachers. They know nothing about class room management, curriculum, Continue Reading


Parents sound alarm about fire safety

firealarm.jpgParents and teachers at Tilden Elementary School, which serves a large number of disabled children, showed up to the board meeting tonight to ask why the school still doesn’t have a working fire alarm or intercom system.

“The potential for disaster with tragic consequences is far too great,” said Kathleen Boos, a teacher at Tilden.

Boos said teachers have to run up and down, knocking on doors, whenever there’s a drill or a crisis. The phones often don’t work, she said, and the school was recently encouraged to buy Walkie-talkies as a temporary solution. Continue Reading


Responding to rise in autism in schools, committee gives recommendations

Here’s an eye-popping statistic for you: Between 1998 and 2002, the number of California students receiving services for autism almost doubled (10,360 to 20,377), and the number has continued to grow.

State superintendent Jack O’Connell convened a committee to respond to the trend. It has just released recommendations to the governor and state legislature.

Here’s the summary, from the state department of education. What would you add? Take a look and let us know what you think: Continue Reading


Next week, special ed director follows her old boss’s trail to D.C.

Phyllis Harris, who has overseen Oakland’s special education programs since July 2003, leaves her job next week — a fact that many have speculated about or known for over a month. She’s moving East to be the deputy chancellor for special education in D.C. Public Schools.

Curiously, the head of the Oakland school district also just took a job in D.C. Last month, Kim Statham accepted a position in the Washington’s new state department of education.

Harris says she has trained Lisa Ryan Cole, a 25-year district employee and an “outstanding (special education) coordinator,” to replace her, at least on an interim basis. Ryan Cole was a teacher and, most recently, the middle schools coordinator for the department. Continue Reading