#LAUSD is planning drastic reductions in the availability of SRLDP classrooms next year. I can't say enough about why this is a very bad idea. The fact of the matter is that SRLDPs are often the only available preschool option for many families whose children are in need of school readiness programs. Many of those students are "at risk" students or English language learners who are greatly benefited by access to preschool instruction before entering Kindergarten.
Beyond that issue - the elimination of these classes drastically changes for many special education students what options are available on the continuum of placements, because the SRLDPs were the only settings that provided access to typical peers. All students have the right to be educated in an environment with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. This is called the "Least Restrictive Environment" requirement. The obligation to provide the full continuum of placement options in order to ensure access to the least restrictive environment is an obligation that applies in full force for preschool students. In MANY cases, one of the major issues for preschool students is the lack of available "typical" preschool programs in the school district / public schools. Many districts simply do not offer or provide any typical preschools, leaving parents in a situation in which they must battle the school districts for funding for private preschool programs just because that is the only way that they can assert their child's right to the least restrictive environment. School districts spend their funds on due process cases over placement (i.e. paying their own attorneys and often parent attorneys) and on reimbursing parents for private schools. I can't help but think that if the districts invested in good quality typical preschool programs across the board, that would be money well spent. It would reduce the number of disputes about LRE for preschoolers, and universally available preschool would ensure that more students come into Kindergarten with the skills needed to succeed!
Not only do available typical settings such as LAUSD's SRLDP classrooms provide a less restrictive placement option for consideration as a student's placement in their IEP, they also provide the possibility of mainstreaming or inclusion for part of the school day for students who are in district special education preschool programs. Many special education preschool classrooms exist on the same campus as district-run SRLDP classrooms, meaning that preschool students in the special education setting can be mainstreamed into an age appropriate classroom for part of the day as deemed appropriate by their IEP team, or can have the opportunity to interact with nondisabled peers during unstructured time such as lunch, playtime or activities. Where there is not a typical preschool setting or an SRLDP on campus, mainstreaming is an empty promise. I have seen too many IEPs refer to some nominal amount of time of inclusion in a general education setting simply because a classroom is located on a general education campus - but for preschool students in a special education setting on a campus with absolutely zero nondisabled preschool peers, this is meaningless. No inclusion can actually occur.
This was brought home for me in an IEP this morning in which a student has been placed in a special education setting to receive a highly specialized program this year and has thrived - but his progress is also attributable to the fact that his special education program exists on the same campus as a district SRLDP - meaning that he has had the opportunity to be educated with his same age nondisabled peers for a portion of his day. The elimination of SRLDPs will take that option off the table for many special education students - in short, it will take away their right to be educated in the least restrictive environment.
It is my understanding that teachers and parents throughout LAUSD have been united in trying to convince the district not to go through with this. I applaud their efforts, and I wholeheartedly join them. Let's hope that their voices are heard by LAUSD!
Please take a moment to sign this petition!