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Concerns raised about cuts to special education program

classroom high school
ZUMA / MGN

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KION) PVUSD staff members and community members are raising concerns about changes to the Pajaro Valley Unified School District's special education program.

PVUSD Assistant Superintendent Kasey Klappenback confirms the district will no longer offer the life skills program at Ohlone Elementary School in Watsonville.

PVUSD is also eliminating a Resource Specialist position there.

Educators KION spoke with are concerned that these changes could create a lack of access to programming for special needs students in the southern zone of the district.

“A lot of my students have parents that do not drive. In general, they have some health issues,” Special Ed Teacher Marcy Mock said. “Our parents are very concerned about not being able to get to their student, get to their child if they were sick or if there was an emergency.”

Mock has been teaching at Ohlone Elementary in Watsonville for 20 years, but now she’ll be moving to another school after her life skills course was removed from Ohlone.

The program is geared toward students with moderate to severe learning disabilities and teaches students how to communicate, count and read. Mock said students in the class have a variety of learning and physical disabilities. Some students may be autistic or nonverbal.

Mock is concerned that this change will mean a lack of access to the life skills class in the south zone.

Educators said the area has a large undocumented and farm worker population and is exposed to pesticides, which they are concerned has a correlation to learning disabilities.

PVUSD said the changes are due to the district seeing declining enrollment over the past few years and fewer students identified as needing the program.

“In the last two years, we’ve lost about 850 elementary students,” PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately, because we’re losing those students, just like we are with regular 2nd-grade programs and other programs, we’re having to, what we call, right-size them.”

Rodriguez said there are eight students in the life skills class at Ohlone. Four will be promoted to the next grade level and the remaining four will be moved to a school closer to them.

Resource Specialist Alejandra Revilla-Rico, who has been working at Ohlone for 12 years, was also told her position was being eliminated. She conducts evaluations and identifes students who may have learning disabilities. She also teaches and was told her position will be added to another educator’s responsibilities.

She is concerned the larger workload could cause some students to
fall through the cracks.

“I'm really worried because what is going to happen is that students with special needs will stay in general ed without the support they need,” Revilla-Rico said.

Revilla-Rico said she has been told she can move schools but is hoping the district will reconsider eliminating her position from Ohlone.

PVUSD said staff members whose positions have been eliminated will fill a need somewhere else.

“We have made no cuts, we plan to make no cuts, but just as we have done with the general education program, we have moved teachers from schools as the numbers change,” Rodriguez said.

Community members and educators plan to rally against the changes and other decisions impacting the district on Wednesday. 

Education / News / Santa Cruz County / Top Stories
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Elisha Machado

Elisha Machado is a weekend anchor and multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.

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