Despite pleas from parents that continued special educational services are critical to helping their children lead productive lives, the San Diego Unified School District board voted unanimously Tuesday to cut the length of summer school for the learning-disabled from nine weeks to six.
Additionally, the board ordered summer sessions cut back from six to four hours, five days a week, at all schools except Revere Development Center in Linda Vista. Many of Revere's students are severely handicapped.
The school board ordered its staff to survey parents of the estimated 500 students who will be affected by the reductions to determine when to start the new six-week session. The disabled students include the deaf, blind, hard of hearing, mentally retarded and physically impaired.
School board members said the shortening of the summer school program is part of a gradual reduction in services to the handicapped made necessary by dwindling funding to public schools from the state and federal government.
Shortening the summer school session will save $125,000 in transportation costs for the summer alone, said Frank Till, assistant superintendent of educational services. Transportation costs involving special education could reach the $1 million mark by next year, he warned.
Minutes before the vote, school board President Dorothy W. Smith tried to assure parents of the board's commitment to special education.
"There is no lessening of commitment and certainly no according of lesser values to children in special education," she said. " . . . Our answers cannot always be yes."
Supt. Tom Payzant said that for years the school district has offered the special education student more services than other school districts in the state. However, he said, mounting budgetary constraints for those services make cuts inevitable.
Daniel H. Lochtefeld, director of the special education department--which proposed the cost-cutting measures--said most of the state's school districts offer four-week summer programs for the disabled.
Board member Jim Roache said the board has obligations to all students and restoring services to the handicapped would translate into reductions in other programs such as bilingual education. He urged parents to "aggressively" lobby state government for more money for education.
At the hearing, about 15 parents and educators protested the changes, saying that structured year-round instruction is essential to the special education student.
The president of the San Diego County Autistic Society, Alison Blake, said the added vacation time for many autistic children "would destroy an entire year of school."
She said the school board was "making the statement that some children are less valuable than others."
Frank Alvarez, a parent, did not believe the board's contention that a secondary reason for the shorter summer sessions was to offer special education teachers longer summer vacations to recover from the strain of handling the special students.
'All You Need Is . . . Love'
"You don't need all those fancy credentials to teach our children," he said. "All you need is somebody with a big heart and lots of love."
One angry parent, Gloria Calloway--pounding her fist on the podium--demanded: "How can you place a dollar value on our childrens' lives?"
"Do you realize the emotional impact it is going to have on our children? No!" she told the board. "You guys, get off the mountain and come back down to earth!"
Proposed cuts in summer programs and early childhood services also came under fire by parents of students with special needs at a Feb. 9 school board meeting. Before Tuesday's vote, Payzant discussed the summer school plan with parents and the program's citizens advisory board to seek alternatives to the cuts.
In the meetings, some parents offered to provide transportation for their children if the summer sessions remained nine weeks long. But board member Jim Roache said the school district wants to avoid litigation should some parents demand that the city provide the transportation.
The special education department has already slashed some services to the learning-disabled. Earlier this month, special five-day programs in infant and preschool education were trimmed to two days a week for disabled students starting school this semester.
Some $500,000 needed for additional teachers and classrooms for those programs are not available because of the high demand for special educational services, Payzant said.