District on lookout for learning disabilities

September 16, 2008 5:56:55 PM PDT
The school district in San Francisco is taking a proactive approach when it comes to special education. The district is now urging parents to be on the lookout for potential learning disabilities and to request testing, but some parents are concerned.

More than 7,000 students in San Francisco's public schools are special education kids. That's more than 10 percent of the entire student body.

The district wants to reach out to even more to parents whose children may need help in the classroom.

"There are populations that are growing, for example, there are a lot more kids who are identified somewhere on the autism spectrum. That's a really fast growing area," says Carol Kocivar, special education ombudsperson.

The California Department of Education found between 2005 and 2007, 90 percent of Bay Area school districts reported a rise in the number of students with autism. Early intervention is crucial. Angela Matter from Millbrae knows. She has a child in special education.

"To just learn how to become an advocate for your child, which you will definitely need later in life, and just to put them on the path to success for their future," says Matter.

Quite often teachers recommend having a child tested, always with the permission of their parents. The district has 46 psychologists on hand. About 1,500 to 2,000 kids a year are assessed. The district admits sometimes parents push for as many services as available.

"I think every parent wants their child to be very successful and they want anything that can help their child be successful. It is their child," says Pam Mills, from screening and assessment.

But it's up to a team of individualized educators who decide what services are given. Then you have the parents who are fearful of having their kids assessed.

"And the concern has to do with labeling and stigma that gets associated with different kinds of learning disabilities," says Diana Conti, a developmental disabilities advocate.

San Francisco hopes the stigma will slowly go away as more parents try to understand the district's special education program.

"We want them to succeed so they are taught the core curriculum and they're taught skills to help them be successful whatever their disability is," says Kocivar.


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