by Tara Siler and Lisa Pickoff-White KQED
Starting this fall, San Francisco public school students with special needs will be able to attend the school of their choice. Special education teachers and teacher aides will follow the students to their new schools.
Currently, San Francisco Unified has assigned nearly 7,000 special needs students to certain schools based on their particular disabilities. For the upcoming school year, 74 schools out of 114 will change their staffing to accommodate the new students. Some schools are getting more teachers or aides, some fewer.
San Francisco school board member Rachel Norton pushed for the change. As a parent of a special needs student, she says she’s faced a patchwork system with some schools integrating students with disabilities into the mainstream, and others placing them into separate classrooms.
“It just felt very unfair, to me and to a lot of parents, because as a district our assignment system said kids can choose to go to any school that they want to except, apparently, if you had a disability,” she said.
Now, the school district is embracing “co-teaching.”
Special needs students will go to a middle school science class, for instance, and they will have two teachers. One is a science teacher, and one a special education teacher.
“But when you’re in the classroom you can’t identify which kids are in special education and which aren’t in special education; and both teachers are teaching all students,” San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker explains. “It’s a shift to saying, they’re not a special education student, they’re a student, and they just have special needs.”