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Students who are aging out of the community Transition Program will leave LOSD without necessary skills, parents say

The Lake Oswego School District has 20 students in the Community Transition Program, which provides students with intellectual disabilities the tools they need to perform life tasks like cook their own meals, apply for a job and ride a bus.

Thirteen students will be aging out of the program after this school year. And they're asking for a do-over.

Parents say the life skills emphasized in the program can't be taught in remote learning, so the students who are aging out this year essentially missed a whole year of teaching.

Grace Wadell's son, George, is one of those students.

She said screens are like kryptonite for someone with intellectual disabilities.

"So not only have they not received the program, but the program that they've received has really caused them to go backwards rather than forwards," she said.

Wadell said online learning has caused high anxiety and depression for George.

She initially advocated for George to have an additional year at the beginning of the school year, and according to Wadell the previous Executive Director of Student Services, Patrick Tomblin, agreed to it. But Wadell said when she began advocating for other students in George's position, the district rescinded its offer.

Current Executive Director of Student Services Scott Schinderle said he's unsure about the details of that exchange. He verified that Wadell made the request for an additional year and that the request was eventually denied when it got to the Individual Education Plan team.

He said even if a district official, in this case Tomblin, had approved the request, it would still be up to the school IEP team to make the final determination.

Schinderle also said per state law, students age out of the program when they reach the age of 21. Because no district has been in the situation of a pandemic interrupting the program, Schindele said districts are considering their legal options carefully.

Schinderle gave a brief update at the Monday, May 24 Lake Oswego School Board meeting on the possibility of extending the program.

"After receiving requests for additional time for our Community Transition Program students who are slated to age out June of 2021 and receiving parents' and student testimony, I will draft the recommendation (on extending the program) for the board's consideration," Schinderle said.

Schinderle told Pamplin Media Group that when he brings the district's recommendation to the board, the board will not be able to make a unilateral decision for all families. If the board decides to allow the extension of the program, that would allow local IEP teams to consider an extra year of school for each qualifying student individually.

Student board member Liza Wadell, Grace Wadell's daughter, pressed Schindele on the content and timeline of his recommendation. When he failed to give a concrete answer, she urged him to consider extending the current students' eligibility for one additional year.

"After spending so much time this summer drafting an entire plan about how we're going to prioritize educational equity, I think this is the perfect example of where we should be prioritizing and actually acting," she said. "I think that it's sort of silly to think about having students who don't know how to do things like ride a bus or get a job, and then have them learn how to ride a bus and get a job online. I don't really think that learning how to virtually do that is really applicable to the real world."

She told Schinderle that she understood this was a hard year for the district and sacrifices had to be made, but this wasn't an area to make those decisions.

"If this is a priority that we set in June, then it should be a priority that we're following through with now," Liza Wadell said, referring to the district's strategic priority of achieving equitable academic outcomes.

She added that several other districts in the state, including Greater Albany, have extended their CTPs due to the interruption of the pandemic.

Greater Albany Special Programs Director Krista McGuyer told Pamplin Media Group that their district is not extending transition services for students who are aging out of the program this year.

"I just don't think priorities are things that we hope. We don't 'hope' that we're going to make an equitable school district, we make one," Liza Wadell said.

Following the Monday school board meeting, Grace Wadell told Pamplin Media Group she requested a public meeting so that parents of these students can provide their input to the board.

School Board Chair Sara Pocklington said that while the board would not hold a public meeting regarding an individual student issue, as it would be a violation of privacy laws, CTP as a whole will be discussed at the next board meeting.

Susah Shimokaji, a parent of a student in CTP, gave public testimony at the board meeting.

"As a parent of a non-verbal student who uses a communication device to speak and relies on reading body language cues, it has been an extremely trying year of online school," Shimokaji said.

She said the federal government allocated pandemic recovery funds for students with intellectual disabilities in the American Rescue Plan. Shimokaji shared in her testimony that she believed continuing CTP would be a good use of LOSD's allotment of those funds.

"We have not received any additional funds earmarked for this purpose at this time," Schinderle said.

He also said he has no timeline for when the district would get that money.

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