SOLANA BEACH — The placement of a San Dieguito Union High School District special education program in two modular buildings adjacent to the district’s brand new Earl Warren Middle School campus has caused an uproar among parents and special education advocates.
For several weeks now, parents have protested the district’s decision to house its Adult Transition Program in two modular buildings on a middle school campus, which the parents have called “separate and unequal” conditions.
The adult transition program educates students with special needs until the age of 22, equipping them with independent living skills and job skills so they can become productive members of society.
The two 1,400-square-foot buildings have only three windows, little natural light and at least one district parent who toured the facilities said the units smelled badly and were extremely hot. In various emails obtained by The Coast News, parents have referred to the classrooms as “tool sheds.”
“Just imagine, when most graduates go off to college, special ed students in the San Dieguito School District are sent back to middle school with no choice,” said Meg Ford, a parent of a special needs student in the district. “And it’s not even the amazing state-of-the-art facilities that are on campus now. As an afterthought they placed two portable units at the back of the school to house 60 students, multiple aides and three teachers.
“Believe me when I tell you that the storage facility for the school is nicer,” Ford said. “There is no excuse for this blatant discrimination to the special ed population.”
Ford said she recently quit her teaching job at Palomar College to homeschool her daughter in the wake of the district’s decision to house the students in the modular buildings.
“In fact, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to send their kids there,” Ford said.
Two school board members, Maureen Muir and John Salazar, have also been critical of the district’s decision with the adult transition program. They recently voted against a proposal to add an additional sliding glass door and windows to the modular units, arguing that if they approve that, the district would consider it a permanent solution.
“I’m afraid if we vote yes, nothing will be done for 20 years,” Muir said. “I’ve seen portables last forever on school campuses.”
The board deadlocked 2-2 on the vote, which called for the district to spend $33,000 to retrofit the buildings. Board member Joyce Dallesandro was absent from the meeting.
District officials acknowledged the juxtaposition of the multi-million-dollar renovated campus and the modular units looks bad, but have tried to quell concerns about the units, arguing that the district has housed students in similar buildings across the district for years.
“I do get the contrast, there’s no denying that these classrooms look different than the classrooms on campus,” Superintendent Eric Dill said. “But it’s important to note that when we did the master planning for the campus, that spot was designated for future expansion, so if the population grew on campus, modular buildings would have been placed there for the middle school students.”
Dill said the district is considering several possible permanent solutions in response to parent concerns about the classrooms, including housing the program at Sunset High School as part of the planned reconstruction of the campus, or in a building on La Costa Canyon High School’s campus with three classrooms.
The LCC plan could take place faster than the Sunset option, but would require the district to relocate the school’s culinary program, which was scheduled to take place for the 2018-19 school year.
Dill said that there isn’t enough time for the district to relocate the program before the start of the upcoming school year, Aug. 29. He plans to bring back the request for windows for the modular buildings at the next school board meeting.
The district is hosting a tour of the two buildings the morning of July 28.