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La Jolla public schools group hears how SDUSD plans to combat learning loss in special education

The La Jolla Cluster Association holds its final meeting of the school year May 19 online.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Cluster Association, made up of representatives of the five San Diego Unified School District campuses in La Jolla, learned of new district programs intended to address learning loss in certain students prompted by the closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the association’s final meeting of the school year May 19 online, Eron Easter presented ways the district’s Special Education Department is tackling the issue.

Easter is a program specialist for alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, a new department within Special Education created to “increase the level of communication … and trust” among members of a student’s Individualized Education Plan team. An IEP is developed to ensure that a child with a disability receives specialized instruction and related services.

The team members include the education specialist at the school site, the principal, service providers (a speech or occupational therapist, psychologist, nurse, etc.), parents, teachers and anyone else indicated on the IEP.

ADR is intended to mitigate IEP-related disputes.

Students with disabilities experienced learning loss during the school closures in 2020-21, as they had limited access to services, Easter said.

“While ... everybody did the best they could during distance learning, it was not the best solution,” Easter said. “But it was the solution we had at the time, and it kept everybody safe.”

She said two programs have been created to help: learning recovery interventions and compensatory education services.

Learning recovery interventions are extra services provided to students with disabilities for “the most reasonable amount of time to regain skills or catch up,” Easter said.

The services are not meant to be for the same amount of time as the period missed, she said. “If your child missed 30 hours of speech and language, they [might] get 10 hours of interventions.”

Compensatory education services are an informal program meant to address IEP services that “the district failed in some way, shape or form to provide,” Easter said.

That might include a staff member falling ill without a substitute in place or a delay in initial assessments for some younger students who “didn’t get an IEP as quickly as they should have,” she said.

Only a “small percentage” of students need compensatory education services, Easter said.

“Some kiddos might have regained a lot of the skills they missed during distance learning just by being in school this year, but not all,” she said.

Easter said each school creates its own assessment plan and decides how it will monitor data, and she instructed parents to check with their children’s IEP team at the school site.

“The program that we created gives schools the autonomy to make that decision based on their communities, based on their students’ needs,” Easter said. Teachers and service providers can volunteer to provide interventions for students, funded by the Special Ed Department.

Learning recovery interventions are written on a separate document from the IEP, she said.

“Some kiddos might have regained a lot of the skills they missed during distance learning just by being in school this year, but not all.”

— Eron Easter

The district also will offer a summer institute for those with learning loss from July 25 to Aug. 19, after the regular summer programs end, Easter said. The institute will run at certain sites five days a week for six hours, based on appointments, with transportation for those who need it from their neighborhood schools.

Easter encouraged those interested in the summer institute to contact their school site’s IEP team.

She added that observations parents made about their children during distance learning provide valuable insight.

“It’s really important that our parents and family members that are guardians to our kids are participating in this process,” Easter said.

Easter said she also works to develop “a different culture in our IEP meetings.”

“If you have any staff members or family members that have a dispute or miscommunication at an IEP meeting, my department can come in and help to mediate [in] a voluntary, unofficial capacity to promote consent and compliance,” she said.

Voting resolution

SDUSD student trustee Zachary Patterson, a senior at University City High School, said he and La Jolla High School junior Aiden Kleinman authored a board resolution about student voter engagement and civic learning that will be presented for board consideration at its meeting Tuesday, May 24.

The resolution would allow students 18 or older to get an excused absence to leave school to vote in the June 7 primary election, Patterson said. ◆