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Real High School Diplomas for All Students

By Steve / 2023-05-11
Posted in ,

While it is great seeing so many parents here fighting for access to higher mathematics, I’m here asking for Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) to bother to teach my son to add.

There are around 60 to 90 specific common core standards for each grade in elementary school which get turned into the 30 to 40 criteria reported in a standard report card.

In my son’s latest draft Individualized Education Program from the district, we don’t get a report card and the district proposed just 3 common core standards.

3 out of 60 to 90 standards.

They aren’t even trying to provide a real education.

Basically, PAUSD put my son on the “no high school diploma” track last year in the Second grade

This is the opposite of what is supposed to be happening in California with The Alternate Pathways to a High School Diploma.

Palo Alto needs to change course to meet these goals and do what is right for its students who face the most challenges.


Pathways to a High School Diploma – Legislative Report –

Workgroups Provide Special Education Recommendations –

California Alternative Pathways to a High School Diploma Workgroup Report –

California Statewide Individualized Education Program (IEP) Workgroup Report

Employing Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disabilities in California

Ensuring All Students with Disabilities have a Pathway to a High School Diploma in California


Palo Alto’s 504 Plan Puzzle

By Steve / 2023-05-11
Posted in , ,

Palo Alto Unified School District’s 504 Plan demographics are substantially different than California’s or the rest of the US states with around 7% of our students having a 504 plan (see attachments) vs. the national average of 2.7%, California at 4% and the highest state average New Hampshire at 6.2% (tab 2 of “Enrollment-Overall”)

Thank you to PAUSD Staff

First, thank you to Amanda Bark and the PAUSD staff for providing this data. I only looked at this because the 504 numbers were broken out in the recent mid-school math report and they were surprisingly high.

What is a 504 Plan?

Students with 504 plans typically do NOT have IEPs and are NOT covered under IDEA.

504 plans are focused on education accessibility and addressing discrimination as opposed to supporting individualized learning needs.


There have been cases that I’ve heard in other school districts pushing students to get 504 plans instead of IEPs (and PAUSD has a low number of Students with Disabilities defined by IDEA both vs. California and nationally). State IDEA metrics do not flag schools for low IDEA metrics, so I do not know if PAUSD is notably low at the state level (there is no slick dashboard for IDEA data like there is for general education)

504 plans are not monitored with any of the attention that is given to IDEA, unfortunately, so, it is much harder to “see” what is going on.

I do not know the reason for this number – it is just a notable outlier.

I believe that the district can break this down by disability category and certainly look at the trends over time. Given other disproportionality issues, it might also be worth looking into ethnic, SED, and other demographic groups to see if there are other drivers.

All my best.


  • Note the “Enrollment Overall” spreadsheet was retrieved from the Office of Civil Rights reporting at the US Department of Education.


Palo Alto Unified School District Special Education Metrics

By Steve / 2023-03-30
Posted in ,

Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Special Education / Students With Disabilities Demographics (2019,2022)

The state counts things... bizarrely and samples different data at different times, so numbers never line up. Welcome to California.
JurisdictionSchool YearTotal Student PopulationStudents With Disabilities PopulationPercentage Students with Disabilities

Question – is PAUSD under-identifying SWD

Issue – data is not available on students who only have 504 plans

PAUSD Chronically Absent

JurisdictionSchool YearTotal StudentsTotal Absentee PercentageTotal AbsenteeStudents With DisabilitiesAbsentee Percentage SWDAbsentee SWDSWD Absentee Percent of Total Absentee
California2019 4,279,57510.1%429207559,82416.3%9125121.3%

This is depressing across the board. There is a substantial excess number of SWD absentee students.

PAUSD Suspension Data

JurisdictionSchool YearTotal StudentsTotal Suspension PercentageTotal SuspensionsStudents With DisabilitiesSuspension Percentage SWDSuspensions SWDSWD Suspension Percent of Total Suspensions

This number usually surprises people by how high it is. The proportion of SWD suspensions vs. total suspensions is appalling and should be addressed. You’ll note the lack of an “issue” in the California data as they don’t capture disproportionality problems.

PAUSD English Language Arts Data

The key to look at here is the gap between special education students and their general education peers both at the school district and the state level to see the "relative effectivenss" of the education program for both populations
JurisdictionSchool YearOverall Performance Relative to State StandardSWD Performance Relative to State StandardPerformance Gap

Compared to the state, Palo Alto SWD are doing well.

However, their performance gap grew from 2019 to 2022.

Unfortunately, the state performance is DISMAL.

The Gap analysis shows (or attempts to show) how PAUSD is serving its SWD relative to its general education peers.

PAUSD Mathematics Data

The key to look at here is the gap between special education students and their general education peers both at the school district and the state level to see the "relative effectivenss" of the education program for both populations
JurisdictionSchool YearOverall Performance Relative to State StandardSWD Performance Relative to State StandardPerformance Gap

Same assessment as for ELA. California overall is DISMAL (when are people going to be ashamed of this?).
The gap between the performance of SWD in Palo Alto is also notably larger than for the state as a whole.

It has also gotten worse in 2022 from 2019.

PAUSD College/Career Readiness

The key to look at here is the gap between special education students and their general education peers both at the school district and the state level to see the "relative effectivenss" of the education program for both populations
JurisdictionSchool YearOverall Readiness PercentageSWD Readiness PercentagePerformance Gap

This metric is kind of cryptic. It does serve as an interesting alternative to graduation data. Some other states are actually tracking students after graduation which is an excellent idea (notably, Arizona).

Again, the big issue is the gap between general education and SWD.

(Sigh… California as usual. No data on this in 2022).

NOTE: I haven’t gone through and de-duplicated SWD in the overall population which will increase all of these gaps in performance.

PAUSD Graduation Rate

The key to look at here is the gap between special education students and their general education peers both at the school district and the state level to see the "relative effectivenss" of the education program for both populations
JurisdictionSchool YearOverall Graduation RateSWD Graduation RateGraduation Rate Gap

There was a huge improvement in state graduation rates for SWD. They also improved slightly for PAUSD.

Yay!… though with California, one wants to ask more questions.

Final Comments

  1. This shouldn’t have to be so hard. We should be able to pull out data on students with disabilities and parse them both between each school and the state as well as with other schools.
  2. The data is not cleanly separated between “students with disabilities” and their general education peers. This winds up under-counting the gap between the two student populations (I can go back and do this by hand.. but not today)
  3. The other largest population across California, and in PAUSD, that has a massive performance gap are English Learners (who are still learning English). We do not currently have any way to include the overlap between these students and students with disabilities (though the school district could do this analysis).

Other California Special Education Resources


Start Behind, Get Behinder

By DNW Contributors / 2022-03-03
Posted in

Disabled students in segregated education settings get 23 percent fewer minutes of instruction per day… and it adds up

My son is autistic. Shortly after his diagnosis by our insurer, we started the Special Education process. We didn’t know anything. Though we were given “Procedural Safeguards”, we had no clue and we trusted the school and the teachers.

They started us in “Special Day Class” (or, more accurately, Segregated Day Class) solely with other disabled children in preschool.

They didn’t ask us.

They didn’t tell us there was an option.

Now, in Second Grade, they are trying to do it again.

But, we’ve learned.

In addition to losing the social and educational connection with his “general education” or “typically developing” peers (which is good for both sets of students)… he would also lose a lot of education.

Start behind, get behinder

The National Council on Disability published this excellent report “The Segregation of Students with Disabilities – IDEA Series (2018)” – go read it!

On page 39, stated in studied, bureaucratic language, there is a bit of a bombshell on “instructional minutes”.

When comparing special versus regular
education classes, they found significant

differences in the amount of time spent in

noninstructional activity: in special education

classes, 58 percent of the time was not devoted

to instruction, in contrast with only 35 percent

of noninstructional time in general education


How many students?

There are approximately 58 million students in our basic system in the US (Elementary school through High School). Approximately 15 percent of students are classified as Students with Disabilities (over 8 million)  and, on average, over 13 percent of those students are placed in segregated settings for most of their school day (around 1 million).

There are also many additional disabled students who spend part of their day in a segregated classroom (less than 60% of the day) which I’ve not included in this total.

The number of students in segregated settings varies widely among the US states (more to follow).

Bottom line:

  • Kids in general education get 65% of their day devoted to instructional time
  • Kids in “special education” / segregated classrooms, get 42% of their day devoted to instructional time.

23% fewer minutes of actual education per day.

That is equivalent to 41.25 fewer days  or 8.25 fewer weeks of school per year

… for over 1 million disabled students.

Given this – how is your child going to catch up? keep up? or ever get included with their general education peers again?

(Do keep an eye out for “modified curriculum” – this is a HUGE red flag)

And this has consequences.

Students with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities have a 20 percent EMPLOYMENT rate (not unemployment rate) compared to 70+ percent of the non-disabled population and 30 percent(0sh) for the disabled community as a whole.

The Segregated Education Gap

This chart breaks down the educational impact (or gap) for you of a segregated education in the US today for disabled students.

Start Behind, Get Behinder - Educational Minutes for Students with Disabilities in Segregated Settings

This table models the expected number of minutes actually spent on educational content for disabled students who are taught in segregated settings (often called Special Day Class or SDC) compared to their general education peers. This model is based on the report from the National Council on Disabilities - The Segregation of Students with Disabilities – IDEA Series (2018) page 39 -
Educational SettingInstructional Time (percent)4 hour day6 hour day20 hour week30 hour weekStandard School Year 4 hour Day (180 Days)Standard School Year 6 hour Day (180 Days)
General Education65%2.6 hours3.9 hours13 hours19.5 hours468 hours702 hours
Special Education (Segregated)42%1.68 hours2.52 hours8.4 hours12.6 hours302.4 hours453.6 hours
Education Gap23%.92 hours1.38 hours4.6 hours6.9 hours165.6 hours248.4 hours

Title: Start Behind, Get Behinder. Body - Disabled Students in segregated settings have 42 percent of school time devoted to academic instruction vs. 65 percent for their general education peers. 23% fewer minutes of education per day 8.25 fewer weeks of school per year. - The Segregation of Students with Disabilities – IDEA Series (2018) National Council on Disabilities page 39 -

Disabled students in segregated education settings get 23% fewer minutes of education per day 8.25 fewer weeks of school
per year.


Hope is not an action word

By DNW Contributors / 2022-02-01
Posted in
I am attending a mini-writing retreat today and tomorrow and just wrote this from a prompt.
Thinking about Rosemerry Watola Trommer’s poem, “Hope.”
I hate the word hope. I always have.
This could be a reflection of my lifelong battle with clinical depression or my adult life as the mother of a now 33 year old son with special needs and his daily roadblocks to “hope.”

Contributed by Marcie Lipsitt

This could be my decades of advocacy and activism fighting for children, teens and young adults with disabilities, public education and civil rights.
What I do know is that “hope” is not an effective action word that creates urgency and commitment to the changes I have tirelessly worked and fought for. Hope is a weak, wishy-washy verb that can’t make up its mind.
I have never seen hope lead to meaningful action. I could hope everyday for public education to provide a globally enviable education to ALL and Every child. I could hope for Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act to be implemented and enforced. I could hope voters across Red and Blue states would vote for civil rights, children and the institution of public education. I could hope parents would organize in their communities, states and at the federal level for students with disabilities to have measurable expectations of growth that would lead to them reaching their potentials. I could hope as a nation we would hold the institution of public education in the highest regard and put it at the very top of our domestic agenda.
I did more than hope in 2008 when I filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over Michigan’s alleged violations to the “highly qualified teacher” provision in both the No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A complaint that took nine months to investigate and led to Michigan having to change the teacher certification requirements for all secondary special education teachers.
Yes, so much more than hope. I researched the teacher requirements for secondary special education in all 50 states having stumbled upon the Michigan Department of Ed’s and being outraged that a secondary special ed teacher in my state only had to pass the MTTC Elementary Teacher Exam! Seriously? So pushing aside the “hope” that I could sprinkle magic fairy dust to create truly highly qualified teachers, I researched the requirements in all 50 states. Only Michigan had removed the requirement for our secondary special education teachers to also be endorsed in subject matter content and they pulled this stunt without requesting a formal waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.  It has always angered me that teachers and school administrators assume students with learning disabilities cannot learn and master the content standards in Algebra 1. Then when I uncovered Michigan’s dirty little secret, I started shouting from my roof-top, “how can our 9th graders with learning disabilities master the content and pass Algebra 1 when their special education teachers staffing resource rooms and co-taught classes can’t?”
“Hope” as a verb or a noun did not push me to research 50 states, or to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Ed. Only my outrage and anger at the poor outcomes of Michigan students with IEPs and especially those with learning disabilities that were losing their educations and legal right to be prepared for Post-Secondary, an eventual vocation and life of independence fueled my actions and commitment.
Fast-forwarding to December 10, 2015, yes I lost hope for the dream of Michigan and America having a globally enviable teaching force. This died with President Obama’s signature on the reauthorization of the Elementary-Secondary Education Act, now regurgitated as the Every Student (won’t) Succeed Act as just saying “No Child Left Behind” resulted in name-calling and anger from misguided parents, teachers and education advocates and activists.
“Hope” in any definition of the word just made me angry during the four hellish years of Trump and DeVos.  From January 1, 2017 to January 20, 2021, I fought my way through 1440 days of maintaining my intractable commitment to America’s children, public education and civil rights. Did I on any of these 1440 days “hope” for better public schools or an overhaul to archaic, ineffective teacher preparation programs or implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act? No I did not because “hope” in any sense of the word lacks action and forward motion. I hear weekly from some kind or considerate person, “You need to slow down because you are going to burn out.” My response has never wavered. I respond and say, “I have not burned out over my lifetime. I don’t burnout because my passion for children, public education and civil rights is not built on anything other than my tortured mission that children deserve everything we can give them to become happy and successful adults and as independent as their brains and bodies allow.
People can hope all they want. What does it really get them? So going back to Rosemary Wahtola Trommer’s poem, yes hope has holes that can be crater-sized and filled with hot-air and inaction. Hope can lead people to say, “this is too big for me and I will leave it for others to do.” Hope can lead to Don Quixote-idealism and “tilting at windmills.” I do believe we put one foot in front of the other from the moment we get out of bed until we get back into bed after another day of fighting for whom and what we believe in and in my case knowing I won’t live to see an institution of public education worthy of America’s K-12 students and seven million with IEPs; and a Federal Office of Civil Rights with the dollars and leadership needed to enforce civil rights. Still, I will forge on and ahead in the spirit of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s breathtaking musical Hamilton, “Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”  A depressing way to spend my days as an advocate and activist? Yes it is. Is there any other choice? Not for me there isn’t.

Requesting an IEP Meeting

By Steve / 2022-01-26
Posted in ,

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) guarantees that every student eligible for special education receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP) documenting how their disability impacts their learning, describing their educational needs, setting annual goals in all areas of need, and outlining the services supports and placement in their least restrictive environment they require to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The IEP team must meet every year to review the student’s progress and update/adjust the program to reflect their needs. Every three years, the student must be reevaluated to ensure that they continue to be eligible, and that the IEP is appropriately individualized. But these are minimum requirements.

Contributed by DREDF. Originally published by DREDF in their newsletter.

You do not have to wait for the annual (yearly) IEP meeting to bring the IEP team together. There are many situations where additional meetings help the team work together to address problems and adjust the IEP.

Students who are legal adults (18 or older in California), parents, and education rights holders have a right to request an IEP meeting at any time. You must do this in writing, and the school must hold the meeting within 30 calendar days of the date they receive the written request (for this reason, it is wise to keep proof of when you delivered that written request). School breaks for more than five days in a row stop the timeline, so the summer break and longer holidays don’t count. Because it can take up to 30 days to hold the meeting, act quickly to request one when there are issues that are time-sensitive.

Bringing the IEP team together outside of the annual meeting can be helpful or necessary. For example:

  • You might want to check in more formally to discuss how the student is doing, monitor their progress, or share information from outside providers.
  • The student is not making enough progress toward their IEP goals and may need more or different services in order to do so.
  • The student’s placement is too restrictive (not enough time with students without disabilities) or their needs are not being met.
  • The student has new needs that the team did not anticipate or previously address, such as mental health challenges, social difficulties, behaviors, academic difficulties, medical issues, or recent hospitalization.
  • The student is being bullied or is not safe at school.
  • The IEP, including the behavior support/intervention plan, is not being followed as required, and services have been missed or delivered inconsistently.
  • The parent is being asked to pick up the student early or to shorten the school day because the student is struggling with behavior, needs medical care (such as diabetes management) and the school does not have the resources or know how to support the student.
  • The student is not able to attend school because of anxiety, overwhelm, or other challenges and the team may need to create a reintegration plan to help them.

See Requesting a Meeting to Review Your Child’s IEP | Center for Parent Information and Resources for more information about when and why an IEP meeting may be needed.

The partnership between parents, students, and schools is an essential part of IDEA. Because an IEP must be individualized to the unique needs of each student, and because every individual’s needs change over time, or because of changes in their school situation, using the IEP process to adjust the plan is an important part of your advocacy.

November’s Special EDition reviewed how to prepare for an IEP meeting. Here are some key advocacy tips to keep in mind when you are calling a meeting for specific reasons:

  • Request the meeting in writing and be sure to keep proof of delivery. Use the calendar to count 30 days (excluding any break of more than five days but including weekends and shorter holidays) to identify when the 30 days would be up and write that you expect the meeting to be held before that date.
  • Include detailed information about why you want to meet and which staff members may particularly be needed (for example, if your student has more than one teacher, and you have concerns about their progress in math, you might request that the math teacher be the required general education teacher who attends the meeting. See Who Is On My Child’s IEP Team? – PACER Center to learn more about who are the “required team members.”
  • Clarify that you expect all required team members to be present for the entire meeting. For example, if you want to discuss mental health needs, the counselor or mental health provider’s participation is key, but you may be willing to excuse the adaptive physical education teacher if you are asked to excuse them. Note that if a team member can’t attend, you must be notified in advance so you can determine if excusing them and holding the meeting is appropriate, or whether it should be rescheduled. See When the IEP Team Meets to learn more about things to consider when excusing team members.
  • If you plan to record the meeting, provide the school with 24 hours written notice. You can also include this in your meeting request.
  • Include the times or dates when you are NOT available to help find a date and time that works for everyone as efficiently as possible. Remember, IEP meetings must be held at a date and time that works for both parents and school staff.
  • If you plan to bring an attorney or advocate, let the school know. If there are others you intend to include (you can bring anyone to support you) let the school know so that there is enough space.
  • If you prefer that the meeting be held virtually (not in person), be sure to include that in your letter.
  • If you need help preparing to participate, contact your Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) as soon as possible. Learn as much as you can about the IEP process, your rights, and your child’s rights in advance. PTI’s provide valuable family friendly resources, training opportunities, and advocacy strategies. Find Your Parent Center.
  • If you need an interpreter (interpreters for LEP parents) or disability-related accommodations (ADA Q&A: Back to School) let the school know in advance and in writing.
  • You have a right to meaningful parent participation in these meetings so removing any barrier to achieving that is important. See Parental Right to Participate in Meetings.
  • Here is a sample letter and instructions to use: DREDF’s Sample Letter to Request IEP Team Meeting.

Other Resources:


Education Inclusion Index – #EducationInclusionIndex

By DNW Contributors / 2022-01-26
Posted in ,

How inclusive are our schools for Students with Disabilities?

According to the latest Department of Education Report for 2021, 15.5% of all disabled students in the US are in highly segregated settings (either in a separate classroom for more than 60% of the day or a separate school).

Top 5 inclusive States


Bottom 5 Inclusive States


Full Rankings


How do we compute the Education Inclusion Index?


2021 Annual Report to Congress on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Keep up to date (and your comments)


    Proactive Inclusion in the Classroom is possible

    By DNW Contributors / 2022-01-06
    Posted in ,

    This video shows an excellent example of Proactive Inclusion for a disabled student, in this case an autistic girl. Proactive inclusion is not merely physically including a child in a classroom or other environment, but working to ensure that they are as fully incorporated into the educational, social, and other aspects of the program as possible.

    Thaysa from Dan Habib on Vimeo.



    California Special Education Study Released – Big Changes Needed

    By DNW Contributors / 2022-01-06
    Posted in
    A major report on the state of Special Education in California finds that big changes are needed.  California has one of the worst rates of inclusion in the US – in the bottom 3 of the 50 states using data from the US Department of Education.

    Some selected findings

    • For students with an IEP, including students identified in each disability category,
      greater participation in a general education setting is a strong predictor of
      academic growth and improved outcomes as measured by statewide
      assessments (i.e., the CAASPP and the CAA).
    • Although California requires SELPA community advisory committees (CACs) to
      support LCAP parent advisory committees as a way of ensuring that parents of
      students with an IEP are represented in the LCAP process, CACs have relatively
      little access to and provide relatively little input on LEAs’ general education
    • For the years studied, California as a state had among the country’s lowest rates
      for including students with an IEP in general education for at least 80 percent of
      the school day and had among the highest rates for including these students less
      than 40 percent of the school day.
    • Subgranting and distributing IDEA funds to SELPAs and allowing multi-LEA
      SELPAs, in turn, to subgrant funds to their member LEAs does not promote
      transparency and may be inconsistent with federal policy guidance.

    Selected Recommendations

    • Recommendation 2. Provide each LEA with the sole decision-making authority,
      autonomy, and necessary resources for entering into and exiting from
      agreements with other LEAs, either individually or as consortia, and other types
      of agencies (e.g., COEs, SELPAs, nonpublic agencies) to offer a flexible
      continuum of services to meet the variable needs of its students with an IEP..
    • Recommendation 4. Increase transparency and alignment of the state’s general
      and special education accountability, monitoring, and technical assistance
      structures. Amplify the voices of special education stakeholders, including
      families, in all governance and accountability structures

    • Recommendation 5. Increase state communication and guidance to LEAs,
      communities, and families about the state’s special education priorities and
      available resources for increasing the provision of special education services in
      general education settings and improving academic and functional outcomes for
      students with an IEP.

    Read more


    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

    By Steve / 2021-03-25
    Posted in ,

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (formerly called P.L. 94-142 or the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.

    IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) for each child. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP reflect the individualized needs of each student.

    IDEA also mandates that particular procedures be followed in the development of the IEP. Each student’s IEP must be developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and must be at least reviewed annually. The team includes the child’s teacher; the parents, subject to certain limited exceptions; the child, if determined appropriate; an agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education; and other individuals at the parents’ or agency’s discretion.

    If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request a due process hearing and a review from the State educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the State agency’s decision to State or Federal court. For more information, contact:

    Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
    U.S. Department of Education
    400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20202-7100

    (202) 245-7459 (voice/TTY)

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

    20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.

    Implementing Regulation:

    34 CFR Part 300