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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Parent Activism in Santa Barbara

The Daily Sound reports on Santa Barbara parents who did something about the poor state of their district's special education:

By meeting regularly for coffee and in Abarca’s church, the parents began to rely on each other as they gradually became more focused, educated and directed in their efforts to get the district to listen to them. They each played a part. For example, those who did not like to appear in public did extensive research work, while others similarly fit their personal strengths to the needs of the group.

“We went from a lot of angry single voices to a more educated and professional approach that the school board had to listen to,” said Abarca. “Don’t get me wrong, the board and the administration ignored us many times and we were often very angry, but I think we used that anger more as motivation.”

The only board member that Abarca and Eichelberger say listened to them from the beginning is Bob Noel, a retired political science professor from UCSB.

“I think what these parents have done is incredible,” Noel said. “Without them, I don’t think anything would ever have been done.”

The logjam finally broke in the spring of 2009, when the parent group, now officially called the Special Education Advisory Council, headed by Abarca, convinced the board to order an independent audit of the district’s special education program. The audit was performed by the Sacramento-based Fiscal Crisis & Management Team (FCMAT). The company’s scathing findings validated the Advisory Council’s long-standing complaints.

Since then, the Santa Barbara parents have continued to push hard for reforms.

The article contains a cautionary note:

One of the most difficult issues for the parents is dealing with the personal attacks by those who feel that giving funds and resources to special needs students takes them away from other deserving students.

Although most of the money for special education comes from the federal government and can only be spent on those with special needs, there are additional state funds at stake. Some argue that special needs students should not absorb these flex funds that could help other students.

See also The Autism Society of Santa Barbara