2012-02-16 / Schools

Parents ask for special education program at Westlake High

District officials say they will look at options
By Anna Bitong

Conejo Valley Unified School District may include a second high school in its special education program for intellectual disabilities.

Of the district’s three high schools and two alternative high schools, only Newbury Park High serves students with intellectual disabilities through the Learning Essential Academic Program, level I and higherlevel II.

While all CVUSD schools have programs for students with mild-to-moderate disabilities, only three other schools offer LEAP: Madrona (LEAP I) and Acacia (LEAP II) elementary schools and Colina Middle School (I and II).

Parents of special needs kids at Colina addressed CVUSD board members at their meeting on Feb. 7 to ask for the same program at nearby Westlake High School.

Curren tly, s tuden ts in LEAP must enroll at NPHS because many of them have mobility issues that the school can accommodate.

“It makes tremendous sense at this point in time to split up the Newbury Park program. It’s become too big,” responded Superintendent Jeff Baarstad.

About 2,200 of the district’s 21,000 students are in special education programs that serve students with special needs ranging from autism to severe learning issues.

The superintendent said that discussions regarding the possible addition would continue through February.

“I want you to understand that our special education staff supports your request and that we have a will to do this. Now we have to find a way,” he told parents.

Westlake High’s lack of space is one roadblock.

“It happens to be our most impacted facility,” Baarstad said.

Margaret Saleh, CVUSD director of special education, noted that LEAP II was developed at Colina three years ago and has since built “meaningful relationships” between students with learning disabilities and their peer tutors.

Lynelle Henninger’s special needs son, an eighth-grader at Colina Middle School, hopes to see his peer tutors after graduation, but as things stand they will head to Westlake High School and he’ll head to NPHS.

“He’s very excited about going to school with those kids,” Henninger said.

“This expansion is necessary . . . to allow them to continue to experience the benefits of the relationships they have developed over the past three years,” she said.

Parent Steven Kresco recalled taking his special needs son to a local eatery where the TOHS football team had gathered after a game. Excited to see the players in uniform, the boy high-fived the squad and congratulated them.

“It was one of the community experiences we won’t get to experience if he goes to Newbury Park,” Kresco said.

“ My son will never score the winning touchdown, will never hit the winning home run, will never score a basket on a winning high school team,” the father said. “However, we do go to our local high school to watch (games).”

Attending a neighborhood school also allows siblings, cousins and friends to stay together, Kresco said, “instead of (being) bused off to a different school that we really don’t have a relationship with.”

Parent Anne Riley said her daughter would feel further isolated and outcast if she could not attend her neighborhood school.

“It will be another setback for her if the friendships and connections she’s made at Colina are severed,” she said.

Return to top