Special Education in the West Contra Costa School District

Parent Q&A

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  • Last Friday we got a diagnosis that our son has dyslexia and ADD. I suspected in 1st grade that he had both and I was right! We went to a licensed neuro psychologist and had a full evaluation done. Now our challenge is figuring out what to do about school next year. We are in WCCUSD and my son is in 3rd grade. I have requested an IEP since we have diagnosis for two disabilities that are covered under IDEA, but I wanted to know what the experience is like for others who have children with diagnosed disabilities in WCCUSD. I have been told that even if the child has advanced grades and isn't that behind, by law, the school is required to accommodate him since he has two diagnosed disabilities that are covered under IDEA. We have also applied to two private schools, but I was told that they can discriminate against children with disabilities because they often don't have the resources to support them. So parents:

    1) What was your experience like getting an IEP?

    2) Did the IEP address all the suggested recommendations for accommodations?

    3) Did the IEP address multi-sensory education recommended for children with dyslexia?

    4) Did the district reimburse you for any tutoring with an education specialist?

    5) Do you have opinions on private versus public school for children with disabilities? We don't have unlimited funds and would most likely be unable to afford private school tuition without financial aid. 

    6) Are they any support groups for parents with children with ADD and dyslexia? This diagnosis has hit us like a brick and I'd love to be part of a supportive community than can provide guidance. 

    Thanks all. 

    Hi there.  My kid has had 3 assessments and 2 IEPs through WWCUSD. That's a lot of questions.  Please PM me and we can talk.  

    Hi there! My son got the same diagnosis a little earlier. We are in BUSD, so can't give you guidance in your district, but I can say that we followed the advice from DREDF (https://dredf.org) and got an IEP meeting right away. The IEP itself was not the greatest (i think they never are) - I find that our school district "experts) have total lack of training in both ADD and dyslexia. But what really helped was:

    1) Contacting DREDF

    2) Getting a private, outside educational therapist (you can ping me to get the info for the one we use - it is kind of hard to find one). This therapist can help your kid w/ literacy, executive functioning, and self advocacy. This is really the best thing we ever did. Our son has seen her for 2-3 times a school week for years. 100% worth it!

    3) Retroactively asking the school district to reimburse us (with a lawyer's help)

    Unless your child is really severely dyslexic, I think the therapeutic schools (like Raskob) may not be a fit. Lots of people suggested Charles Armstrong but it's so far away and super expensive, so we didn't even consider it. 

    I attended one meeting of Decoding Dyslexia and it depressed me -- there were only a few parents and as I remember they were all homeschooling (not an option for me). 

    CHADD https://chadd.org is a good organization for ADD. Sometimes there are good lectures at Holy Names - It's really important to look at research rather than other people's opinions about your kid's LD - staying informed is great! Feel free to ping me.

    FYI, it hasn't always been easy but my son is now 12 and in 7th grade and reads at grade level and has excellent reading comprehension skills! ADHD has proven to be more of a liability in school but this year, he's showing a lot of maturity and making friends and communicating well and even starting a club at (public) school. 

    It helps to put a request for an IEP in writing because it will let the district know that you are aware of your child's rights.  I would read Wright's Law website and use one of their sample letters for requesting the meeting.  Be prepared to fight for services for dyslexia if your son is at or above grade level.  School districts often deny services for children who are not showing academic weaknesses compared to their classmates.   It's possible that things will go smoothly but If you have difficulty getting a response from the school district you might want to hire an advocate to assist with the process.  Some school districts provide services for private school students but most do not.  Increasingly, private schools are employing learning specialists to help students with disabilities.  I hope this helps.  

    Our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of first grade.  We put her on Adderal, which helped tremendously, and go her weekly tutoring.  She continued to have problems, so in sixth grade we had a neuropsych exam at UC that showed elements of LD as well as slow processing.  She was in private school from pre-K through 8th grade, and is now at Berkeley High.

                Private schools are under no requirement to accommodate, and have limited resources to do so.  Even if your child is accepted, he may not get much help.  While I think we did OK at our kid's private school, other parents whose kids have ADHD were deeply dissatisfied.  If you go with public schooling, you can use some of the money saved for tutoring, which has helped us a lot.  On the flip side, private-school small class size and personal attention can be helpful.  It may boil down to which private versus which public school you're looking at.  My kid's public-school teachers are every bit as dedicated and individually supportive as the private-school ones were.  There are private schools focused on kids with learning issues, locally including Raskob (https://www.raskobinstitute.org/).

                Re IEPs: we thought our daughter qualified for an IEP, but we ended up with a 504.  I had also read what various websites said was the law, but Berkeley schools at this point operate under a newer, perfectly legal achievement-based standard, and our kid simply wasn't that far behind even though she was achieving well below her IQ-based capacity.  In an ideal world, smart kids with learning issues would get instruction that addresses both the smarts and the disabilities, but public schools really don't have the resources.  Public schools are required to educate kids with a huge range of profound disabilities, and that sets the level for special ed.  So far we have been fine with a 504, though now that we aren't paying tuition we plan to increase the tutoring.  We haven't gotten any financial support for outside tutoring, and frankly, if your son is not profoundly disabled, he isn't likely to be deemed eligible.

                Applying for an IEP entails doing a new set of tests much like the neuropsych evaluation you have already gotten, though they will use different tests, and will base their decision on the tests they administer.  Our kid looked less disabled based on their tests compared to the neuropsych evaluation.  The IEP meeting will be stacked against you, in that there will be five or six of them and maybe two of you attending the meeting, and they are a lot more experienced at this than you are.  If you go this route, pay attention to the various time-lines and all the other bureaucratic details.

                A good resource regarding legal issues is the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (https://dredf.org/).  Another good resource is WrightsLaw, https://www.wrightslaw.com/.  I strongly recommend subscribing to Attention Research Update, http://www.helpforadd.com, which summarizes current ADHD research in clear terms -- free, and no ads.

    Our son had an IEP through WCCUSD for about 3 years for a variety of conditions, including ADHD. He had a 504 before, and "graduated" to an IEP when speech became a bigger challenge in class. He has since graduated out of his IEP and has a 504 again for the ADHD and anxiety accommodations. If you haven't already contacted DREDF, you should for guidance for your specific situation. We were very happy with the speech services my son got, saved us tons of money and helped him greatly; also his speech therapist ended up acting as his "quarterback"/advocate for the ADHD accommodations. It is very helpful to find a champion within the school or district. We never found ourselves in an adversarial position with any of the staff, it was more like his grades were good so they wanted to write less in at the time and "wait until he needed it". (We prevailed in putting in the kitchen sink when it came to accommodations.) In answer to your specific questions based on our recent/current experience in WCCUSD:

    1) Basically fine, we all agreed he needed an IEP for speech. (He was incomprehensible.) The 504 was also easy to get with a letter from an MD.

    2) Yes. The problem is not all staff at the school know about it. For example, my son had an accommodation that he could eat lunch outside instead of in the crowded noisy cafeteria. Well, the janitor came along and yelled at him to go inside.

    3) Don't have any first-hand experience with dyslexia.

    4) No, nor would I think they would. They have specialists for everything in-district in big districts like WCCUSD. Education specialists are not licensed professionals so I wouldn't waste my time asking for that, but hey, maybe DREDF can speak to this more.

    5) Public school has worked out great for our special ed kid. I can't speak to private.

    6) I am aware of CHADD's FB page. I believe Kaiser has some relevant support groups for its members.

  • WCCUSD for Learning Differences

    (1 reply)

    I have a second grader and I am looking for a public school in West Contra Costa Unified School District for my daughter.  We have identified several learning differences and need a school that can make appropriate accommodations with or without an IEP.  So far she has not qualified for any services under an IEP (although outside professionals say that she should).  We need a school that can work with a bright energetic girl that needs to move her body, support with social cues, support with learning differences, and sensory integration challenges. I would love to know if anyone has any experiences with Kensington Hilltop in regards to learning differences and/ or social emotional support.  We are zoned to Hilltop, but would attempt to transfer to which ever school in WCCUSD is best for learning differences.

    Thank you

    I have a fifth grader with an IEP at Fairmont, our neighborhood school. He's had it for two years, and a 504 for a year before that. Fairmont hosts the EC family of elementary schools special ed program as well as being a full inclusion school, so we have felt like once he got "in the system" there has been a ton of support from the teachers as well as the special ed staff on site. I would say there is a relatively high level of tolerance of students with differences, whatever that may be, because there are many on campus, both mainstreamed and in the special day class. I have heard from other parents that their children with significant-level IEPs zoned for other schools in EC have been directed to Fairmont, explicitly or implicitly.

    I will say that if you don't have a 504 or IEP, you really should pursue that because otherwise you are asking a LOT of the school and teachers, especially if you are new to the school. I don't know what you mean by "outside professionals say she should". I would contact DREDF for an appointment with one of their counselors and review the process for initiating a 504/IEP evaluation request. It may be that she has lots of differences but doesn't meet the legal threshold for an IEP/504, and then you might be better off staying where you are already in school and working with the team you know. Keep in mind the class sizes in the WCCUSD are large.

Parent Reviews

I have lived in the Bay Area in west contra costa for over 15 years. I have advocated for better education and better practices in WCCUSD for years. In my experience I recommend you NOT ENROLL your kid in this district, they have limited budget for helping  kids with special needs or any kind of mental health problem, and no compassion when making decisions about them. The schools staff aren’t trained to help kids in crisis and most of those kids end up arrested for misconduct or punish with suspensions instead of addressing the main issue, which is provide mental health support and resources on school sites for students with mental health problems. 

RE: Preschool for ASD 3 year old ()

Hi there! I live in Richmond and have a 4 y/o girl with ASD as well! I would definitely encourage you to work through WCCUSD and get into one of the early intervention preschools. Our daughter is in her 2nd year at the early intervention preschool for autism at Montalvin elementary in San Pablo. It is a half day, but then she gets sent by bus to a local daycare that we have a good relationship with. Even though the program through the school district is half day, we have found it SO SO helpful with our daughter! This upcoming fall she will be attending Kinder at Wilson Elementary where the autism full inclusion program for WCCUSD is. Our 9 y/o is also in the spectrum and she has absolutely thrived in this program at Wilson! Feel free to email me with any questions or advice. I'm in the midst of it :) Cheers!  debg325 [at] yahoo.com

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Best Person for Educational Testing?

Nov 2015


Our son is in second grade in the WCCUSD. He appears to have some learning issues. We have not been impressed with the IEP testing process. From what we've observed, they will do backflips to conclude that the child is within the normal range of development.

We're looking for referrals to someone extremely well regarded and credible to do independent testing for him. This needs to be someone independent with nothing to gain from good or bad test results. The goal would be to get the testing done by someone whose results I can trust. I don't trust anyone employed by the school district or anyone associated with a private educational organization who stands to make money through enrollment.

We understand that this will be expensive. That's not our primary concern at this point. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks

I've recommended them before, but I want to recommend UC's Psych Clinic for testing. They do a very thorough job, and the graduate students are well-supervised. They also meet the criterion of being objective. A further thought -- it is difficult to get services in 2nd grade, because (at least in Berkeley) eligibility for services requires being two grade levels behind -- i.e. a second grader testing at the K level. Even if a child has a large discrepancy between areas, if they are at or above grade level it is pretty much impossible to get services in the areas where they need them (at least in Berkeley.) We ended up paying for OT and some other services out of pocket and using a 504 plan to get accommodations. However, it is good to have a better understanding of what is going on in order to advocate for your child. anon

Hi - I also have a 2nd grade son in the WCCUSD. Last year we went through the process of getting an IEP assessment for him for speech issues - at times he was so inarticulate at home that even his parents couldn't understand him. However, the school speech pathologist found that his speech problems didn't meet the district (actually State, I believe) standard for intervention. We then went to Kaiser (our healthcare provider), had him tested again, and Kaiser found him to be right on the borderline - they didn't recommend intervention, but they would have paid for a short course of therapy to see if it helped. I think this is because my son is a pleaser, tries very hard with new people/authority figures (other than parents, ha!), and yeah, as a result doesn't present his biggest problems to outsiders. I can't disagree with the result of the assessments, and I found everyone at the District level (and at Kaiser) to be professionals. Now, my son's issues turn out to be bigger than speech, and at the moment I'm preparing to start the 504 assessment process for him. DREDF (in Berkeley) has a parent training monthly on IEPs/504s that I found to be somewhat helpful (although I'd say it is most applicable to parents with profoundly disabled children), and there are lots of online resources about the limitations and benefits of each type of plan. As you may already know, WCCUSD hosts both a monthly special ed formal meeting as well as biweekly (?) parent coffee chats about IEPs/special ed generally. Good luck with your child's journey.

I am currently in the assessment and IEP process in BUSD so I don't have a recommendation on a specific person but you should know that if you are dissasisfied with the results of the your district's testing you have the right to ask for an outside assessment at their cost. You get to choose the person who does it and the District pays. You can speak with a counselor at DREDF for more specifics on this process. They are located in Berkeley at Ed Roberts Center and have a special line to answer questions. Hoping (but not conviced) the District will dothe right thing!

WCCUSD accommodations for Asperger's and ADHD

Sept 2011

Our wonderful eight year old daughter has just been diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD. She is currently in a public school in the West Contra Costa district and is doing fine academically, but has been having trouble making friends. I'm wondering if anyone has worked with West Contra Costa school district to get disability accomodations, I would love to hear any advice you would be willing to share. Thanks so much! worried mom

I have worked as an advocate with several families of children with Aspergers in WCUSD. Is your daughter already receiving special education or 504 services? If so, request a meeting in writing to discuss your concerns. The link below contains phone numbers and emails for special education personnel. If your daughter is not already receiving services, write to ask for assessment for 504 and special education services and say that you would like them to proceed simultaneously. The IEP process is long and onerous, and possibly unnecessary if her needs can be met by a 504 plan. A 504 plan provides modifications and accommodations that are needed for her to have an opportunity perform at the same level as her peers, and may proceed more quickly than special education assessment. It's not a substitute for special education, however, if that is what she needs. In addition to whatever recommendations you get from other parents, I suggest you just call or email the program specialist for your area with your specific questions and to find out whether any schools already have social thinking programming (check out www.socialthinking.com too). The beginning of the year is frantic, so you may need to follow an email or faxed letter with a phone call. You can find the special education directory here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3u4xd5s dana


Special Education at Kensington Hilltop?

Feb 2008


We are looking into kindergarten options. Our son was diagnosed with high functioning autism and has sensory processing issues. He is too advanced for a special day class but needs help with social skills and is a bit uncoordinated. Academically, he is on target.

We live in Kensington and want him go to our local school (with his twin sister and a bunch of other neighborhood kids) but are getting mixed signals from the school district. We had always envisioned him going to Hilltop in a general ed class with support-- possibly a shared aide and OT and speech therapy on site.

My main question- are there any Kensington residents who send their special needs kids to Hilltop? If so, how has it been? What about El Cerrito and Richmond families who live close by? I know that the school has an OT room and 2 speech therapy rooms so it seems to me that they are structurally set up. The principal is a former special ed teacher so it would appear that there might be support from the administration.

Any other Kensington residents in the same situation? We could ban together and show that there is a need for services and support at Hilltop. It just doesn't make any sense to me to send children with special needs away from their community and social structure. We think that children not only learn in the classroom but by relationships with kids on the block and after school playtimes.

My friends ended up leaving there and transfering to Madera and ended up at Castro full inclusion, where they are happier. The people who are trying to dissuade you from attending there probably understand the school-staff-community dynamics and know what might happen. Although the school does have speech and OT rooms it doesn't mean the staff are trained to work with these children whose needs are more intense. Also the staff don't have the support or material on site (ie a Special Ed teacher or things such as programs to make visual schedules). The admin people actually might be trying to save him from all the negative past experiences of other children with special needs. It is sad to think that attending your neighborhood school may not be the best place for your child but you also want to do what's best for him. You also need to trust your gut instinct, if you feel like the school doesn't have ALL the resources you need then you need to look elsewhere or make sure they are in place and that the staff know how it is to work and are willing to do it BEFORE you child steps foot into the classroom. This is a lifelong process that never gets easier, just changes as the kids grow. Best of luck down a LONG road. isn't it sad?

I am not a parent of a special needs kid, but I have two kids at Hilltop, and my daughter's class, in particular, has special needs kids in it, at least one with autism. I think both teachers (at least the 1st and 2nd grade teachers I've had experience with) and the principal are attentive to addressing any special needs in the classroom-- as you mentioned, just talk to Principal Sanders about it-- she is very responsive. anon

I do not have a special needs child at Hilltop, but my child attends Hilltop, has some learning issues and has an IEP. Not really sure who you spoke to in the district and I am not sure what you were expecting the district to tell you. They probably would prefer that you sent your child somewhere else as it is less for them to deal with. By law they cannot tell you that and they have to serve the needs of your child.

If you have not done so, please call Principal Judy Sanders and at the very least have a phone conversation with her. I am sure you will find her to be a fine Hilltop Ambassador, and I think you could get a clear idea of the services that will be available to you. You can then decide whether you think this would work for your child.

You might also ask the BPN for some opinions on CASTRO, which although is not in Kensington, has an excellent special needs program.

Overall, they have bent over backwards to address my child's needs. I think the teachers so far have been exceptional. They have used every trick in the book, every motivator, every alternative learning method available to make it work. I've been impressed. Anon