OCEANSIDE — MiraCosta College finds itself in hot water for what some are calling insensitive and discriminatory treatment of students in the Adults with Disabilities Program.
Krista Warren, a part-time associate faculty member at MiraCosta College since 1992, said her students in the Basic Academic Skills class at the Oceanside campus range in age from 18 to 63 and have Down syndrome, autism and various forms of intellectual and developmental delays. The class is part of the community college’s noncredit program.
The incident that has ratcheted up concern occurred on July 9, when Dean Kate Alder announced during Warren’s class that the aides who accompany some of the students would no longer be approved as volunteers.
Alder also described the Student Code of Conduct and calmly explained, according to sources, that the campus police could be called in the event that students causing harm to themselves or others warranted it. Alder then told the aides that they had to immediately leave the classroom.
The aides work for social agencies funded by the California Department of Developmental Services and are responsible for their clients, many of whom are not capable of getting around campus or managing a schedule on their own. As such, the aides asked their students to leave with them.
Warren said this resulted in many students crying and being confused. Trish Shortal said her son, Luke, who is a 28-year-old with Down syndrome, first refused to leave — asserting his right to be there. Shortal said Warren was able to calm him down so that he would exit peacefully, but she said the incident “agitated him for days, and he lost an entire day of academic instruction.”
Other students later fixated on the idea of being arrested. Alex Zuniga is enrolled in the Adults with Disabilities Program at the San Elijo campus in Encinitas, where a similar announcement had been made. Zuniga, who spoke at the MiraCosta board meeting on July 19, said, “The reason I’m here is because I’m afraid of police officer [sic].” A family friend named Julie Law-Cheeseman accompanied Zuniga because his mother does not speak much English. Law-Cheeseman said that he “started literally shaking” when he saw a police car on campus that evening.
An upset parent addressed the board, saying, “All I’m asking is that you reconsider these new laws or rules … and do the moral thing — do the ethical thing — because we as parents have spent a lifetime fighting discrimination against our children.”
Alder’s July 9 announcement enforced a procedure effective immediately that any student requesting a classroom accommodation must meet with the college’s Disabled Students Program and Services office to get approval.
One parent was appalled that MiraCosta implemented the policy in the middle of a term with no advance warning to the students’ parents or conservators. Very few of the students live independently, so most of them rely on an adult who acts with power of attorney.
She told the board that the way the policy change was handled failed “to demonstrate a knowledgeable concept of the distress that is felt by the disabled population when there is a change in the routine.”
MiraCosta, in written statements issued on July 24 by its Director of Public & Governmental Relations, Marketing & Communications Kristen J. Huyck, explained that the changes in the aide policy stemmed from concerns raised by noncredit faculty “about visitors in the classroom and volunteers who were not providing instructional benefit.”
Huyck wrote that the college “determined that an existing district policy needed to be reevaluated to uphold the safety of students and staff, ensure effective use of class time, and address programmatic changes and growth … ”
As parent and attorney Lucile Lynch pointed out, the aides who were asked to leave are free support for the college. While MiraCosta pays for one instructional aide to be in each Basic Academic Skills class, it does not pay the agency aides.
Huyck wrote, “MiraCosta College is currently working with our community partners on how best to move forward … . A series of meetings will occur this week to discuss how to accommodate resources in the classroom.” In the meantime, Warren said most of her students’ aides have resorted to sitting in the hallway, which Huyck said was problematic.
According to MiraCosta, part of the issue is overcrowding and the safety concerns that come with it. Warren said she has never added chairs to a classroom, but she’s always had an informal policy of accepting all students who showed up to her course. This was never a problem until this term, she said.
At the beginning of the summer session, Warren was told by the administration that students who could not fit in her class could take the same class at the San Elijo campus, but Warren didn’t find that to be a feasible solution given that, in addition to having disabilities, “many of the students are poor and have no transportation,” she said. Warren was warned about over-enrolling and said she subsequently complied with what was asked of her.
MiraCosta put the class in a larger room but did not split it into two sections as parents had requested. Huyck explained that the college did not have the resources to accommodate that request.
Huyck wrote that a “series of events” including an incident in which “a student’s extreme disruption resulted in safety concerns” prompted the announcements about student behavior and the campus police.
Warren, who said she’s never had a behavioral incident in her own class, is a beloved instructor. She won the 2018 Faculty Association of California Community Colleges’ Part-Time Faculty of the Year Award. Until two months ago, she had served for three years as the coordinator of the noncredit continuing education program. Warren first learned of her removal when parents asked why her name wasn’t in the course catalogue as the coordinator.
Parents have expressed dismay over MiraCosta’s treatment of Warren. Trish Shortal said, “Krista is a master.” She explained that her son has experienced “tremendous academic growth” in Warren’s class as well as shown great strides in his ability to follow directions and interact socially.
Shortal expressed how parents of adults with disabilities, such as herself, dream of their children becoming “contributing members of society, and MiraCosta is putting barriers up” to the achievement of that goal.