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Disabled students and classes disappear once again from MiraCosta's program catalog

Oceanside, CA - Despite numerous public comments over the past year alleging discriminatory practices against students with developmental disabilities and requests that these students also be represented on MiraCosta's class catalogs like other students, MiraCosta continues to ignore these students' pleas. Job postings and other public materials of the community college claim to value diversity, but practices and programming shows that this neuro-minority continues to be discounted by administrators.

In 2017 and 2018, student James Walker, along with other community members, appeared before the Board several times asking why students with disabilities and their program were constantly visually ignored in MiraCosta's outreach materials and why funding was not being used to build the adults with disabilities program or to hire full-time faculty to build the program. MiraCosta's adult education grant plan identified students with developmental disabilities as being the most underserved student group in the region and prioritized funding to build the program. Yet, funding was diverted from this program to other departments and in at least one instance, misused to pay for a grant administrator of a separate program.

In response to Walker's request that he and other disabled students be represented on the covers, MiraCosta depicted visually disabled students for a brief period in 2018, but administration once again chose not to do so for its Spring, Summer and Fall catalogs for 2019. A review of the recent course catalog also reveals that classes have been cut, reducing the options for students in the adults with disabilities program. Instructors are not listed for most courses in the fall, while other programs do have staff listed, signaling once again to the community that the Adults with Disabilities program is not on equal par with other programs. Such omissions were on the heels of other complaints by students with disabilities that MiraCosta ignored their needs and concerns in the community college's "Equity plan" as well, which several members of the public also criticized via public comments to MiraCosta's board.

Under state law, community colleges are supposed to develop equity plans to ensure success for all students and per MiraCosta's equity plan, steps were to be identified to support "all MiraCosta College students" in order to remove barriers and create pathways to student success. Students with disabilities were not specifically acknowledged by MiraCosta as a student group in the plan, even though this student community is recognized as a targeted group for equity measures by the State.

According to the community college's research in its March, 2015 "Regional Comprehensive Plan," approximately 12,000 individuals with developmental disabilities were in MiraCosta's district, but less than 2% were being served by the public community college. MiraCosta's research for its adult education block funding found that the community college did not provide "meaningful employment related education or training" for individuals with developmental disabilities or pathways for these students. Despite these findings, President Sunny Cooke appears to have no interest in making changes to better welcome students with disabilities. Funding was cut to reduce services to MiraCosta's tutoring center, and the funding identified in the regional plan to support various measures to build the adults with disabilities program was not provided to the program.

MiraCosta is currently in the process of creating a new 3-year regional plan through the Coastal North County Adult Education Consortium, chaired by MiraCosta's Dean Kate Alder, but neglected to attach it the April 22, 2019 agenda for the public to see it. The consortium has been subject to numerous criticisms for making decisions without public notice despite being subject to the Brown Act.

Students and members of the public have appeared before the board since 2017 asking MiraCosta's Board and President to take steps to make sure that the community college includes education and pathways for all community students, including those who have developmental disabilities. The community questioned the administration's hiring of full-time faculty to head the adults with disabilities program (AwD program) even though he had no background working with students in the adults with disabilities program. Numerous public comments questioned why administration failed to take disciplinary action after the Dean appeared unannounced in classes last summer warning students in the AwD program that they could be removed from by police if they misbehaved. Students in other noncredit programs were not given the same warning. Community members through public comments raised concerns that the dean's singling out of students in the adults with disabilities program for such a warning was a discriminatory practice and that for some students, the warning about police intervention scared them from attending school.

Students with disabilities were not alone in their concerns about the dean's intimidation tactics. Just last week, a MiraCosta instructional aide appeared before MiraCosta's board alleging a similar practice was employed by the dean regarding instructional aides. Associate faculty and union president Krista Warren also raised concerns about various practices with respect to the adults with disabilities program and its students, but shortly after doing so, the dean eliminated her position as the noncredit coordinator and reduced Warren's class load.

MiraCosta's insensitivity to students with developmental disabilities was the topic of whispered comments at a recent ceremony honoring various artistic works of noncredit students. Students with disabilities were listed in the "Expressions" publication as being in the adults with disabilities program, thereby revealing their special education status. Some observers raised concerns that the disclosure of a student's disability in such a manner may have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits the disclosure of confidential student information, such as special education status, without an individual's consent.

A parent of a student recognized at the Expressions ceremony shared that she was happy that her adult student had received recognition for his work, but that it was a shame that his disability was made known to the world by listing that he was in the adults with disabilities program. "I'd prefer he was recognized on the merit of his work, without disclosure to the public that he was disabled."

In California, funding is allocated to community colleges to provide postsecondary education to those with "substantial" disabilities under the general community college apportionment act (Ed Code 84757(5)) and the adult education act (Ed Code 84913(a)(5)). While the trend nationwide has been for community colleges to build programs to embrace this underserved neuro-minority given the significant gaps to the workforce and high rates of poverty, since President Sunny Cooke arrived in 2015, MiraCosta community college has developed a reputation regionally of not being a very welcoming place for those with developmental disabilities.

Representatives from the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Rehabilitation and other agencies have appeared before the Board asking for action and reforms. Last year, the Academic Senate issued a resolution also acknowledging that additional support should be provided to this program.

Will MiraCosta's practices change any time soon? Not likely per advocates and community members. As another parent stated, "We tried to enlighten administration about the laws and policies that should be guiding their decisions, and the incredible need for postsecondary education for students with developmental disabilities given the impact of postsecondary education on employment outcomes, but we have come to realize that we can't make MiraCosta's admin care. Change will probably not happen until Cooke packs her bags."

Crowdfunding for a one way ticket anyone?

#MiraCosta #SunnyCooke #developmentaldisabilities

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