Locals upset over special needs at Oxnard School District

by David Michael Courtland

Oxnard School Board meeting on Wednesday, June 1, was dominated by angry parents and concerned staff all making known their frustration with the direction things have been going under Superintendent Cesar Morales.
Parents of special education students, the OSD staff who work with them and parents of English-as-a-second-language students presented a laundry list of complaints to trustees.
Special education parents and teachers were particularly upset that classrooms designed for students with special needs are being taken to use for an overflow of kindergarten students.
“It just seems the district has forgotten the repercussions of moving our special education students to accommodate general education population,” said Janet Mellring, who teaches vocabulary and spelling online from Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.
The loss at Marshall of classrooms and restrooms and technology designed for special needs students is especially disconcerting, Mellring explained.
“Stability is critical for special education students because they suffer from stress disorders; moving causes anxiety,” Mellring said.
Losing the restrooms costs teachers critical amounts of time because more of it is spent changing diapers and cleaning up accidents than working with the students, Mellring said.
It’s also humiliating for special needs students who have to use conventional restrooms and are seen by students who may not understand, she added.
Mellring and her associates were followed by members of Primero Los Ninos (Children First), parents of children learning English as a second language.
Parents are concerned about the lack of progress their children have shown since Cesar Morales became superintendent three years ago, said Cynthia Garcia, a spokeswoman for the group, “which is a big deal for our children because if they’re not proficient in English (by high school), they’re not allowed to take college prep courses.”
Garcia added that parents don’t understand why this is happening despite an infusion of extra funding to the district since Gov. Jerry Brown changed the state’s allocation formula.
“They want to know where the money went, and they haven’t been given a clear explanation,” Garcia said. “Why are (OSD officials) saying they can’t afford tutoring when they’re getting millions of extra dollars?”
Speaking through a translator, Dina Ayala of Primero Los Ninos said that parents were also frustrated at not getting answers as to why OSD English language services officials have been placed on administrative leave.
“He has been a great help to the children of the district,” Ayala said of one of the officials, adding that this official has been an innovator in implementing the district’s English language master plan.
“He started a dual immersion program, and in the process of opening a new language arts program,” Ayala said, “he brought forth all these programs that have benefited the kids.”
Morales would not comment on whether those officials would be reinstated, calling the matter a personnel issue, but said the complaints of those groups were being addressed.
“Their concerns were immediately examined after the board meeting,” Morales said on Tuesday, June 7, when asked about the special needs students. “I had staff analyze the issues and there should be a solution presented in about a week.”
The special needs students will eventually have the classrooms and space they need, but it probably won’t happen for as long as one to two years from now, Morales said.
“This is one of those things; there’s always a transition period,” after a change is made, before the full impact is felt, explained Morales. “But we’re sharpening our pencils and I think we can come up with a solution good for all those concerned.”
The needs of English learner students are also being addressed, Morales said, insisting that OSD’s programs remain on target to achieve planned goals.
Morales also said that the bond issue that will be on November’s ballot has been carefully designed not to substantially add to the tax burden of homeowners.
“They’re not going to see an (immediate) tax increase, because the bonds won’t be sold until the (most recently issued) bonds are sold,” Morales said, adding that the state’s inability to properly fund schools has made another bond request necessary.
Another bond would be necessary just to build new schools to meet future demand, according to OSD official Lisa Kline.
Overshadowed by the protesters was the board’s 4-1 decision to put the $142.5 million bond measure on the November ballot for voter approval.
Lone dissenter Denis O’Leary said that he had hoped to force more discussion of the move with support from one other trustee.
“It had to pass with four votes,” noted O’Leary. “I was hoping to get another ‘no’ vote so we could delay it.”