DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - April 20, 2007

School district OKs special ed ombudsman

New position will be neutral resource for parents and staff

by Jordan M. Doronila

Trustees hope a new ombudsman will bring comfort to the relationship between parents and school officials who are involved in special education.

The School Board gave its approval at its last meeting for a special needs liaison in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. The new position serves as a neutral resource for both parents and staff regarding the district's special education programs.

The liaison would provide communication, information and understanding to parents. Also, it would provide mediation to help them resolve their issues. The position would cost the district approximately $220,000 to $250,000.

"It provides a safe place to take issues," said Trustee Rachel Hurd. "The idea is saving a lot of legal costs on both sides."

Hurd said the job is expected to be filled by July 1. Additionally, District Director of Special Education Joann Biondi has retired, and administrators are looking to fill her post.

For several years, parents have complained that they and district officials have spent thousands of dollars in attorney fees to deal with their special education issues. They have also said services have not been provided or have been delayed and outright denied to their children.

Some parents have expressed confusion and abruptness about the process in developing their child's Individual Education Program.

"It's a position that's very much needed," said Tammy Brock, a mother who had an autistic daughter in the district.

"It will be helpful," said Jim McVay, a father of a two children with special needs.

"Whoever it's going to be is going to have an uphill (battle) in establishing credibility where parents feel comfortable," he added.

Hurd said the district's special education steering committee, which comprises staff, parents and board members, formed a subcommittee to create a special needs liaison. Hurd said the committee members met with ombudsmen in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District and in Sonoma County.

They gathered information and came up with the proposal describing the liaison position tailored specifically to this district's needs. Committee members wrote and submitted a proposal to district Superintendent Rob Kessler in February. He then gave it to the board for approval.

If the ombudsman is unable to bring parents and staff together, the district may hire an independent contractor to resolve any conflicts, Hurd said.

Parents said they still have complaints with the special education process in the district, Brock said. However, the level of communication and progress is different in each case, McVay said.

"We haven't had any significant issues," he said.

McVay said the ombudsman is going to have to build rapport with parents.

"Of course the perception is that this is another person representing the district," he said. "Personal contact is the most important thing. (The main priority is) that the person is readily accessible and can address needs."

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com

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