BUSD SpEd Inclusion Programs: what's the real story?

Hi Berkeley Parents Network
We're trying to figure out where in the East Bay we should put down roots. Our 3 year old son has autism, and so the biggest factor is whether he'll have the support to thrive in school. We've heard very polarized opinions about the inclusion programs in Berkeley; we understand that among parents of special needs students, BUSD has a poor reputation, but it is starting to look like BUSD is the surest bet to get our son into a well resourced inclusion classroom. We are currently in Oakland, and while OUSD has some very good inclusion schools, they also have many under-resourced schools, and even if we moved into the hill areas near the good schools, it would still literally ba a lottery to get him a good placement. Whereas it seems like Berkeley has more consistency across programs, and so moving to Berkeley would be a safer play. I wonder if BUSD's poor reputation stems from the fact that they have ONLY inclusion programs and no special day classes, so parents who need their kids to be in a more restrictive environment don't really have anywhere to turn, and that would be deeply frustrating. But if that's the case, and we are looking for an inclusion classroom, then wouldn't BUSD be a reasonable choice? I'm looking for parents who have experience with BUSD inclusion to offer a more nuanced take than what we've gotten so far. (We know Piedmont is the best but we're not sure we can afford it.) Thank you!!!

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Our experience in BUSD inclusion was that it's a lovely idea that requires huge sums of money to actually implement well, money they don't have. So our child was tolerated in his gen ed class, but he wasn't given appropriate services or supports. Our advocate actually said she thought OUSD was better than BUSD for special ed. I think a lot depends on the school you get assigned to (Berkeley is a lottery system based on zones) - some are probably better than others. Our principal was fine with restricting my son's recess if he didn't complete his work, which was a violation of the district's recess restriction policy. She was also fine with him eating by himself every day at lunch rather than have a goal for him to eat with peers. His teacher put him out in the hall by himself with the classroom door closed when he was misbehaving (he was 6, he has ASD). I could go on...we got an attorney and and eventually we felt like it was a lost cause and we moved to another district. My son went from 180 minutes of aide time a week in Berkeley to 640 minutes in the new district (he's still in gen ed). He got a Behavior Plan. It was night and day. I like to believe that most people in BUSD want to help kids, but in our case they didn't seem to have either the will or the resources to provide my son with appropriate services and supports. If you can, I'd research how much they pay for legal costs every year related to special education...if they provided the services they should, they wouldn't spend so much on lawyers and settlements...

We have a child in BUSD with multiple LD’s, sensory issues, and some behavior challenges.  

Our child is not making meaningful academic progress.  District services have not been sufficient to provide our child with the type of instruction they need to do so.  We’ve had an independent neuropsychological eval and it was recommended our child receive Non Public School placement because the district program is not/has not been sufficient for them.  Our child is now so far behind peers remediation in math and spelling is needed, though district won’t acknowledge this.  

We’ve spoken with a few special education attorneys, all of whom say BUSD is the very worst district to work with if you have a kid w special needs.  They will fight you to bitter end before agreeing to pay for any services your child needs and will insist they can provide them. Though, their special ed teachers well meaning, they are not trained in research based methodologies for LDs like Linda Mood Bell or Making Math  Real and have overloaded caseloads. We have not had positive experiences with our process with the district and are at our wits end, thus calls to attorneys. 

Also, there is a class action lawsuit in progress against BUSD for their systematic failure to identify and support kids w dyslexia.  

I hate to be so negative but I’d strongly caution you against BUSD. 

My child had a 504 plan in BUSD and our experience (3-9 grade) was that BUSD did the bare minimum. They talked the talk, touting the belief that all children can be accommodated in the regular classrooms, but they did not walk the walk. It was left to us parents to negotiate with individual teachers. Repeatedly we had to educate teachers about our child's disability and explain what he needed to succeed.   Kids that needed targeted support were placed in classrooms with teachers who had no specialized training or even a basic understanding of learning differences.  My child, who had significant problems of his own, was in a class in the 3rd grade that included 5 children who required full-time aides, including one child who was non-verbal and prone to violent outbursts such as throwing chairs and stabbing classmates with a pencil. This child spent most of the day doing busy work on a computer while the rest of the class carried on. No kids benefit from this kind of approach, special needs or not. My takeaway was that BUSD doesn't want to spend the money to train teachers or provide programs for the kids who need extra or specialized help. It's one size fits all in BUSD.  I think any other East Bay district would be better than BUSD if your kid has special needs.