As Albuquerque Public Schools considers whether to close La Resolana Leadership Academy due to repeated violations of laws designed to protect the civil rights of students with disabilities, it needs to consider what it is communicating to not only LRLA, but all schools in its portfolio.
It’s important to acknowledge that LRLA is striving to serve a critical need: providing a high-quality middle school education for Hispanic students who are generally underserved and for which there is a documented achievement gap. However, this laudable mission does not outweigh the need to ensure that students with disabilities rights are protected.
If APS allows the school to continue to operate in spite of two years of what appear to be substantive, as opposed to solely technical, violations of IDEA – e.g., failure to hire and retain qualified special education professionals – it is signaling that it is less committed to the students with disabilities in the district than other students. Conversely, if they move to implement immediate corrective actions or close the school, it will serve as a clear indication that students with disabilities matter.
Most disconcerting, the governing council leader defends the school and notes that the “unsatisfactory performance doesn’t reflect the entire school.” In other words, he appears to be implicitly acknowledging the shortcomings in special education but basically saying the rest of the school is OK.
Students with disabilities typically represent 11 percent to 13 percent of the students in public schools. To ask for forgiveness for failing students with disabilities by arguing that the rest of the school is OK is simply unacceptable. In the interest of the students with disabilities at LRLA and those enrolled in charter schools across Albuquerque, we commend APS for holding schools in its portfolio accountable for the education of all students, not just those seen as easier to educate.
To honor all of the students enrolled at LRLA, APS must hold the school accountable and decide to either close the school and support students finding better options or scaffold the school with substantive support to ensure that students enrolled are provided the high-quality education they deserve.
Lauren Morando Rhim is a life-long advocate for students with disabilities.