Special education class closes due to low enrollment

GLENDALE — Fourteen-year-old Jonathan Sanchez said he returned to his alma mater Thursday to say goodbye to a program and a teacher who helped him communicate.

He was part of a special education day class at Toll Middle School, a self-contained program that, because of minimal enrollment, is being collapsed into Wilson and Rosemont middle schools.

"We had a lot of fun here," he said. "I learned about animals, I learned how to talk about animals."

Jonathan, now a freshman in the general education group at Hoover High, joined Toll teachers, students, office staff and parents Wednesday as they celebrated and bid farewell to special education instructor Steve Field and the students with moderate to severe special needs he led for 16 years.

Field is to be transferred to Columbus Elementary School.

"Steve was a Toll institution and worked miracles with these kids," said Julie Hoppe, a fellow special education teacher. "He did as much for the general education population as he did for students in his class."

Field's and Hoppe's students differ by their abilities. Field worked one-on-one with special education students while Hoppe's students would move class to class with their peers.

"I'll miss the kids, I'll miss the staff, we had a great run," Field said. "They are as upset as I am."

The class numbered five students this year, officials said. The demand for special education is higher at elementary school than middle school, which explains why Field is being transferred to the elementary level, officials said.

"It was a numbers issue," said Amy Lambert, the assistant superintendent for special education. "Special education classes are always based on students' unique needs and individualized education plans. The district has always adjusted enrollment to meet the child's needs."

She said such actions are routine.

"[It] goes on every year," she said. "We had no complaints from parents."

Special education is one of the costliest elements in public education. Even in affluent budgets, state dollars are not enough to cover program costs, Lambert said.

"It's never fully funded, so when our general revenue is reduced, it makes the impact more severe," she said.

Field's students sold lunch regularly every week, and used their revenue to fund field trips, meals and other activities. Their account could not be transferred, and students decided to donate the remaining $800 to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, where many students have been treated, Field said.

The money will go to the Children's Fund, which funds art supplies for young patients, research and some procedures, said Audrey Cyr, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Marty Unger, another instructor from the special education department, said the end of the day class is a blow to her coworkers and the school. Everyone benefitted from getting to know the students in Field's class, she said.

"General education students have benefitted by the exposure to these students with special needs," she said. "It enables them to understand people's differences."

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