Dean tells disabled students behave or we might have to call the police on you. Attendance impacted.
MiraCosta Community College - Over the last ten days, in the middle of the summer term, interim Dean Kate Alder conducted numerous surprise visits to classes filled with students with intellectual/developmental disabilities (ID/DD) to advise them that if they misbehave in their class, and fail to listen to their teacher or to her (if applicable), she may need to call the police to remove them from campus. For many students, and families, the threat of having police called on the student has created fear among the students and their caregivers about further participation in the classes for this highly diverse student population. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many students in the classes are "conserved" because of the impact of their disability on their decision-making abilities and ability to understand certain information, which means that for all practical purposes their parents still make their decisions for them, much like the practice with minors. However, instead of sending emails to families or the students to set forth a gentle reminder of MiraCosta's policies, Alder appeared in person to make sure the message to the students was clear: behave or we might have to call the police on you. Now some students are afraid to return to class.
Faculty and students have taken great strides to ensure that MiraCosta's campuses are a safe haven for students by creating and implementing programs and policies to protect students under DACA, and establishment of the "Safe Place" practices to ensure accepting, supportive learning environments for students in the LGBTQIA community. But, despite intolerance for discriminatory and fear-inducing practices for most of its students, students with intellectual/developmental disabilities (some of whom also fall within the DACA and LGBTQIA communities), continue to encounter barriers and beliefs that have a discriminatory and now fear-inducing impact. Most students with ID/DD live at the poverty level and have tried over the last year to convince MiraCosta administrators how important accessing postsecondary education is for their community because studies show that postsecondary education can improve their employability and earnings by approximately 50%. Advocates have also urged MiraCosta to guide its practices and decisions by California's 2013 Employment First Act, which makes employment of those with ID/DD one of California's highest priorities. Under the Equity in Higher Education Act (part of the "Donahoe Act"), "public higher education in California [should] strive to provide educationally equitable environments that give each Californian, regardless of age, economic circumstances, or the characteristics listed in Section 66270 (which includes persons with disabilities), a reasonable opportunity to develop fully his or her potential." The statute further provides that it is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to ensure and maintain learning environments "free from all forms of discrimination and harassment, in accordance with state and federal law." Advocates and students assert that over the last year steps have been taken backwards instead of forwards and that certain practices feel increasingly discriminatory.
Per reports of families and students, students with ID/DD disabilities were also recently notified over the last several days that adults in charge of their care (either through day program contracts or familial relationships) could suddenly no longer remain in the classroom. Until this summer, members of the students' adult support teams were allowed to remain in class to provide support, if needed, and as directed to by associate faculty leading the class. Such support is provided for free and until recently, was not an issue. And, instead of giving notice ahead of time to families or agencies, or sharing this new "stance" at the end of the class period, Alder appeared and essentially cleared the classroom. After Alder's appearance, one parent said her son's class has currently dropped to around half of what it was at the beginning of the summer. Families question why Alder declined to give advance notice and use the opportunity to build relationships by offering to help students, their families and agencies as they all transitioned to the new or newly enforced practice. Per state regulations governing "Educational Assistance Classes" (classes designed to meet the educational limitations of students with disabilities in specialized classes), the educational institution "must use student/instructor ratios determined to be appropriate by the District (in this case MiraCosta) given the educational limitations of the students with disabilities enrolled in each class." 5 CCR § 56028(d). These classes shall also have "curriculum committees responsible for reviewing and/or recommending educational assistance class offerings or obtain expertise appropriate for determining whether the requirements" are satisfied, "utilize curriculum, instructional methods, or materials specifically designed to address the educational limitations of students with disabilities" and be open to students who do not have disabilities.
It is unclear at this time if MiraCosta has ever done any assessments to determine what student/instructor ratios should be used in the classes in its adults with disabilities program. Advocates have appeared before the MCC Board and the Adult Ed Block Grant (AEBG) consortium on numerous occasions this past year questioning why other noncredit programs get permanent aides and the adult with disabilities program does not, despite the more intensive educational needs of the students in the class. (Alder is also MiraCosta's appointed representative to the two-district AEBG consortium and its acting chair).
Advocates have also questioned why MiraCosta has never in its history ever allocated funding to hire full-time faculty for the adults with disabilities program despite there being nearly 12,000 potential students in the district's boundaries and despite the AEBG funding being allowed to fund full-time faculty. In 2013, the professional research conducted for the consortium's implementation plan demonstrated that this student community was the most underserved in MiraCosta's district. In response, the 3-year implementation plan for the AEBG consortium recommended the hiring of full-time faculty and per the plan's funding tables, over $100,000 of the block grant funding was to be used to hire faculty by 2016, yet MiraCosta declined to do so. Instead, funding has been primarily used to pay for classified staff to help with registration and other undefined functions.
With respect to curriculum groups referenced under the Educational Assistance Class instruction regulation, Watchdog was unable to find the existence of any curriculum committee in place to support the adults with disabilities program. As noted, there is no full-time faculty to lead or advocate for the program or its students. Since November 2017, advocates have pushed for the creation of workgroups for the MiraCosta staff-led AEBG consortium (which receives over $1 million a year to build programs such as the adults with disabilities program) to ensure some degree of accountability to students with ID/DD, but updated bylaws to implement work groups have not been adopted.
The push for workgroups resulted after advocates brought to light how MiraCosta's VP of Instruction (Diane Dieckmeyer) had claimed that the consortium's funding to build the noncredit programs had been cut with respect to the adults with disabilities program, but that the minutes of the consortium failed to support this. Through public document requests, advocates learned that instead of supporting the adults with disabilities program, MiraCosta had instead used the consortium's funding to pay for a classified position, found questionable by an internal review conducted by a representative from the AEBG office and which was ultimately found by the MiraCosta Trustees not to be an allowable use of the consortium funds.
Recent leadership changes have resulted in sudden changes without any advance notice to those affected. A local agency that provides aide support was contacted and its representative commented that she had never seen anything like this before in all the agency's years of supporting students at MiraCosta and that she hopes these arbitrarily enforced and sudden changes get worked out so that the agency's clients can still access postsecondary education at MiraCosta. Working with day programs and "service support people" seemed to be a partnership goal envisioned by the MiraCosta-staff led adult education consortium as reflected in the consortium's AB 86 plan, and even the Board of Trustees' policy encourages the district's use of agreements with outside organizations and individuals to provide volunteers to the district (BP 7500), but at this time, Watchdog is pretty sure "partnership" is not the word those affected will be using anytime soon.
Leadership changes have also included the elimination of the noncredit coordinator position, which historically managed the noncredit "other" programs that included adults with disabilities, seniors and short-term vocational. However, this past spring Alder eliminated this position, held by associate faculty Krista Warren, and instead created a "chair" position so that full-time faculty could manage the programs even though the chair appointments do not appear to have any experience working with students in the adults with disabilities program or familiarity with the different agencies and programs to support the students.
These new "approaches" to the adults with disabilities program were initiated this summer when Angela Senigaglia (a noncredit English teacher) was appointed by Alder as an interim summer chair for program, but she unfortunately does not appear to have a background in working with students in the adults with disabilities program or any understanding of how the day programs are needed to provide support to the students enrolled. For the fall, Alder appointed a math teacher from the adult high school, Steve Wezniak, to serve as the official chair and who similarly does not appear to have any experience working with the students in the program, special education curriculum or the agencies that support them. Per Board Policy 4020, there are supposed to be regular reviews of the programs and courses and opportunities for training of persons involved in the aspects of curriculum development. Per Administrative Policy 4022, faculty are responsible for proposing courses and determining the learning outcomes. Questions remain how a chair appointed from the adult high school division, with no experience working with the Adults with Disabilities program, working with students with ID/DD, or the program's related curriculum, will be able to meaningfully represent the interests of the students, and why MiraCosta's administrators thought it acceptable to replace a seasoned noncredit coordinator with faculty from the adult high school program who did not have experience with MiraCosta's adult with disabilities program or related curriculum in the first place. Would this have been acceptable for other programs? The programs for ESL and the Adult High School each have chairs with related backgrounds and experience in those programs, why not the Adults with Disabilities program?
The problem does not stop there per the students and their families because not only do the chairs not have experience, but they shared that neither do the administrators guiding those chairs. One parent commented that it feels like "we're back in the 1950's" adding that it seems like the message at MiraCosta is: "Unqualified for the position? That's fine for the adults with disabilities program!"
Alder has a Doctorate of Philosophy and a Master of Science degree, with a focus on Career Technical and Adult Education. She previously worked at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College during the same time as MiraCosta's president Sunny Cooke worked there. Alder served as the Dean of Career Technical Education (CTE). She was later selected to serve as the VP of Instruction for San Diego Continuing Education in August 2016, where she served for only approximately one year before resigning. Cooke then welcomed her to MiraCosta earlier this year as the interim Dean of Behavioral Science, History and Continuing Education to replace the prior dean who left shortly after the public raised various problems with the MiraCosta staff-led consortium's lack of public meetings and its handling of Adult Ed Block Grant funding. Watchdog was not able to find any information that showed that Alder or her supervisor, the VP of Instruction Diane Dieckmeyer, had any experience working directly with ID/DD students or with the adults with disabilities program.
Associate Faculty Warren by comparison, whose position was eliminated to create the new "chair" position, had over 25 years of experience working with persons with ID/DD, was a presenter for the Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative: "The New World of Noncredit: Building and Expanding Programs in Community Colleges," was recently awarded the state's top associate faculty award, and was appointed by the state Chancellor's Office for Community Colleges to serve on its field team related to adult education. Families have been told that Warren cannot serve as a chair simply because she is not full-time faculty, despite her extensive experience and highly positive reviews by her students. Records from Surf (MiraCosta's enrollment system) show that her classroom is consistently filled and parents have shared they often have to get up in the early morning hours to enroll their student because her classes fill up so quickly.
The new summer prohibition regarding free support or volunteers in the classroom was suddenly raised and enforced once Senigaglia assumed the interim chair position and without any outreach to the students (or their families in the instances of conserved students) to make a smooth transition. The reason told to some parents to justify the new stance is that MiraCosta does not allow people to "audit" the class, but a review of Board Policy 4070 states only that "Students may not audit courses." and the aides are clearly not students.
Students were also informed that they may only have "personal care attendants" if: their medical records or educational records require 1:1 support in the classroom, they have this information on file with the DSPS office (Disabled Students Programs and Services) and they have an "academic accommodations plan" (AAP) that requires this support. However, MiraCosta's "visitors" policy (Administrative Policy 4072) does not contain any ratio requirement for personal attendants. Unfortunately, several students had to leave their classes this past week because they did not have 1:1 support in their educational materials or "academic accommodations plan," and could not remain in class without their agency support because of their medical or other needs. In some cases, students had to leave because their support aide was from an agency that has its own requirements about keeping within a certain proximity of its student/client.
A personal assistant with one of the agency's assigned to support one of the students shared, "As a personal assistant with a day program, me and my coworkers and clients were kicked out of the classroom this week because they did not have the approved accommodation for a personal assistant. It has been very difficult for my clients and is an unfortunate situation."
Several parent volunteers stated that even though they had already shared all their student's educational records with DSPS, and had met with DSPS to share this information, DSPS never informed they needed an "AAP" to be allowed to sit in the classroom to support their student's classroom needs and that they too had to leave with their students. Families, programs and agencies are now scrambling to comply with what appears to be an arbitrarily raised practice in the middle of the summer term. Families are worried that some students who do not need 1:1 support (but who might still need occasional assistance to stay on task or to physically perform an activity) will no longer be able to reap the benefit provided by the extra volunteer help and that they may not be able to have their own support in the classroom to make the course accessible. It is unknown what impact this new "clear the classroom" practice will have on volunteers previously approved through Board Policy 7500. The bottom line is that members of the community are very surprised MiraCosta is rejecting the free help offered by trained agency care attendants and family volunteers who have knowledge about the student's medical/learning/behavioral needs, and that its administrators suddenly adopted this new enforcement approach after several weeks of classes had already passed.
Another practice questioned by advocates is the requirement that students in the adults with disabilities program participate in a DSPS intake appointment before attending classes regardless of whether a student needs or is requesting accommodations. Some students do not need accommodations in order to participate in the adults with disabilities courses, but parents reported that students could not attend the program unless the students first signed up for an intake meeting with DSPS and shared their existing special educational plans and/or medical information with DSPS. Advocates stated that requiring students to share their private information with DSPS — even though they are not requesting accommodations — seems to require actions based upon the student's disability and participation in the program, as opposed to the student's needs for accommodations, which they believe constitutes a discriminatory practice.
And, per public comments before the MiraCosta Board, even if an intake meeting occurs, MIraCosta's DSPS office currently does not provide supports and services to the students in the adults with disabilities program other than intake meeting. See also the AB86 Block Grant Plan p. 57, confirming that there "are no DSPS services available to AwD other than intake services.” Under these circumstances, intake meetings do not appear to be a service, but rather a MiraCosta requirement imposed on students in the adults with disabilities program. Why are DSPS intake meetings required if students are not requesting accommodations? Does an intake meeting trigger additional funding for MiraCosta, and if so, does the funding benefit those actually undergoing the intake meeting? Further inquiry is needed. With respect to the DSPS office generally, per the California Community Colleges website, DSPS offices are supposed to provide support services, specialized instruction, and educational accommodations to students with disabilities "so that they can participate as fully and benefit as equitably from the college experience as their non-disabled peers." Examples of services per the website may include:
assessment for learning disabilities,
interpreter services for hearing-impaired or deaf students,
note taker services,
access to adaptive equipment,
special parking and
Parents and students alike argue that these accommodations are primarily for those with learning disabilities and that accommodations for students with ID/DD are often very different, including the need for instructional assistance to stay on task, sometimes physical help to perform a task, assistive technology to access curriculum, behavior supports to encourage students to use non-behaviors to communicate, and more, none of which are currently provided by DSPS but which students have said would enable them to "learn more and faster."
Students and members of the public have been raising claims of discrimination for almost a year before the MIraCosta Board and Academic Senate, including how the adults with disabilities (AwD) program has never been allocated full-time faculty like other noncredit programs, how the AwD program has difficulties getting campus classroom space, how MiraCosta staff spent adult education block grant on disallowed items while cutting funding for measures to support AwD in the block grant's implementation program, how adults with disabilities were not specifically included in MiraCosta's equity plan even though students with disabilities are defined as a targeted/protected group under both state and federal laws, how the students in the AwD program receive no support through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act even though activities funded under that Act are supposed to have a "particular focus on those individuals with disabilities or other barriers to employment," and more. This year the Academic Senate passed a resolution demonstrating its concern with MiraCosta's support of programs like the adults with disabilities program.
The Board of Trustee Goals for MiraCosta include "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" and "significant training" related to diversity, equity, and inclusion such as safe spaces training. Note to the MiraCosta Board: It's time for "significant training" on neurodiversity and creation of policies that recognize all students' access to postsecondary education regardless of their disability.
For now, Alder and Senigaglia get Watchdog's "dog poop" award for their insensitivity to students with ID/DD and the use of language interpreted to be threats to call the police on the students if they misbehaved in the classroom. Imagine if this had been done in a different classroom setting with students otherwise vulnerable to threats of police involvement. Protests would have filled the streets within minutes. But for now, only crickets for this population. Next MCC Board meeting: Thursday, July 19, 4 pm, at the Community Learning Center, 1831 Mission Avenue, Oceanside. Those wishing to present comments to the Board may do so by signing in on the public comment sheet. Their name will be called near the beginning of the meeting for them to present a comment up to 3 minutes.
Related article(s): "False Narratives," and disregard of students' needs continue to be at the forefront of community's concerns," May 17, 2018.
"Is Getting a Postsecondary Education a Good Investment for Supported Employees with Intellectual Disabilities and Taxpayers?,"R. Cimera, C. Thoma, H. Whittenburg and A. Ruhl, Inclusion, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 97-109 (6/2018).
"You Don't Say! Parent Involvement Expectations, Communication and FERPA Requirements in Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities," Barb Ziemke (2018), Think College (webinar, discussing evidence on the importance of continuing parental involvement and support for young adults with ID/DD).
Resources for Complaints:
• Office of Civil Rights Complaints (eg. discrimination on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, ethnicity, ancestry, or sex (including pregnancy or parental status, etc.) https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/…/complaintintro.html
• ACLU https://www.aclusandiego.org
• Uniform Complaint Procedures: https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cp/uc/
• US Dept of Education https://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/gen/index.html
• Uniform Complaint Procedures Contacts (e.g. Discrimination, Spec Ed, Instructional Materials, CTE, and more): https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cp/uc/ucpcontacts.asp
• Chancellor's Office for Community Colleges Javier Romero firstname.lastname@example.org Neil Kelly (Adult Ed Block Grant): nkelly@CCCCO.edu • MIraCosta Community College: 1. Board of Trustees: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com 2. Administration: Kate Alder - Dean, Noncredit 760-757-2121, x8701, firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela Senigaglia - Interim Chair Summer/AwD Program 760-757-2121, x8721, email@example.com
• State of California - Spec Ed Director - Kristin Wright KWright@cde.ca.gov