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LAUSD, UTLA Strike Deal On Some Services For Students With Disabilities

Educators at Plainview Elementary School in Tujunga provide one-on-one tutoring in person. (Screenshot fro Oct. 26, 2020 LAUSD video)
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Students with disabilities in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be able to get some in-person services for students under an agreement with the union representing its educators and service providers.

Key to the plan: it will rely on teachers and therapists who voluntarily agree to provide occupational therapy, speech therapy, and adaptive physical education and other services for students with individualized education plans or other special needs -– in other words, they cannot be forced by the district to participate.

Those who do volunteer will provide one-on-one services, and both provider and student will have to be tested for COVID-19 and cleared before sessions can begin, according to the agreement.

Some other aspects of the agreement (which you can read in full below) include:

  • The option to provide the services or therapies outside
  • A blocked-off 20 minute window between students to allow for cleaning
  • “Specialized face coverings” provided by the district when needed – like transparent face coverings when working on speech skills
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Back in September, UTLA elementary vice president Gloria Martinez said the union did not believe the district and county were ready to welcome back students with special needs without putting them at risk, but since then, she said, they’ve learned more about the district’s plans for PPE and air filtration.

“What we came up with yesterday, which has been a process over the last couple of weeks, is a reflection of both parties wanting to deliver services for our students who need them the most, who are vulnerable,” Martinez said.

The agreement resembles similar deals made between the district and the union earlier this month to provide one-on-one tutoring and assessments in-person.

Last week, the parent group Speak UP released a survey detailing the struggles students with disabilities are facing during distance learning, including attempts at self-harm and signs of regression.

“We are pleased that UTLA is finally allowing its members to voluntarily help kids with disabilities who have been regressing in large numbers without in-person services,” Speak UP Founder and CEO Katie Braude said in a statement. “However, there is nothing voluntary about federally mandated IEPs. The district must provide these services to all kids in a way that meets their individual needs.”

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When addressing the Los Angeles City Council at a meeting earlier this week, Superintendent Austin Beutner acknowledged the challenge of serving these vulnerable students while most campuses are largely closed under state and county health orders.

“There are certain students, students with differences and disabilities, for instance, where it is just not practical to serve a student in isolation,” Beutner said.

More than 1,000 schools in LA County have informed Public Health that they are offering some type of “in-person supports and services” for more than 35,000 students who struggle the most with distance learning, like students learning English and students with special needs and Individualized Education Programs.

Most of the schools offering these in-person “specialized services” and assessments are public schools – specifically district schools.

The county recently raised the maximum number of students who can participate in person from 10% of the enrollment to 25%.

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According to an update from L.A. Public Health director Barbara Ferrer, officials have done around 700 site visits to ensure compliance with county protocols at schools that have reopened in a limited capacity “and, with only two exceptions, there are no outbreaks.”

You can read the signed agreement between LAUSD and UTLA below:

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