MiraCosta faces heat for its treatment of adults with disabilities

MiraCosta faces heat for its treatment of adults with disabilities
Courtesy photo

OCEANSIDE — MiraCosta College finds itself in hot water for what some are calling insensitive and discriminatory treatment of students in the Adults with Disabilities Program.

Krista Warren, a part-time associate faculty member at MiraCosta College since 1992, said her students in the Basic Academic Skills class at the Oceanside campus range in age from 18 to 63 and have Down syndrome, autism and various forms of intellectual and developmental delays. The class is part of the community college’s noncredit program.

The incident that has ratcheted up concern occurred on July 9, when Dean Kate Alder announced during Warren’s class that the aides who accompany some of the students would no longer be approved as volunteers.

Alder also described the Student Code of Conduct and calmly explained, according to sources, that the campus police could be called in the event that students causing harm to themselves or others warranted it. Alder then told the aides that they had to immediately leave the classroom.

The aides work for social agencies funded by the California Department of Developmental Services and are responsible for their clients, many of whom are not capable of getting around campus or managing a schedule on their own. As such, the aides asked their students to leave with them.

Warren said this resulted in many students crying and being confused. Trish Shortal said her son, Luke, who is a 28-year-old with Down syndrome, first refused to leave — asserting his right to be there. Shortal said Warren was able to calm him down so that he would exit peacefully, but she said the incident “agitated him for days, and he lost an entire day of academic instruction.”

Other students later fixated on the idea of being arrested. Alex Zuniga is enrolled in the Adults with Disabilities Program at the San Elijo campus in Encinitas, where a similar announcement had been made. Zuniga, who spoke at the MiraCosta board meeting on July 19, said, “The reason I’m here is because I’m afraid of police officer [sic].” A family friend named Julie Law-Cheeseman accompanied Zuniga because his mother does not speak much English. Law-Cheeseman said that he “started literally shaking” when he saw a police car on campus that evening.

An upset parent addressed the board, saying, “All I’m asking is that you reconsider these new laws or rules … and do the moral thing — do the ethical thing — because we as parents have spent a lifetime fighting discrimination against our children.”

Alder’s July 9 announcement enforced a procedure effective immediately that any student requesting a classroom accommodation must meet with the college’s Disabled Students Program and Services office to get approval.

One parent was appalled that MiraCosta implemented the policy in the middle of a term with no advance warning to the students’ parents or conservators. Very few of the students live independently, so most of them rely on an adult who acts with power of attorney.

She told the board that the way the policy change was handled failed “to demonstrate a knowledgeable concept of the distress that is felt by the disabled population when there is a change in the routine.”

MiraCosta, in written statements issued on July 24 by its Director of Public & Governmental Relations, Marketing & Communications Kristen J. Huyck, explained that the changes in the aide policy stemmed from concerns raised by noncredit faculty “about visitors in the classroom and volunteers who were not providing instructional benefit.”

Huyck wrote that the college “determined that an existing district policy needed to be reevaluated to uphold the safety of students and staff, ensure effective use of class time, and address programmatic changes and growth … ”

As parent and attorney Lucile Lynch pointed out, the aides who were asked to leave are free support for the college. While MiraCosta pays for one instructional aide to be in each Basic Academic Skills class, it does not pay the agency aides.

Huyck wrote, “MiraCosta College is currently working with our community partners on how best to move forward … . A series of meetings will occur this week to discuss how to accommodate resources in the classroom.” In the meantime, Warren said most of her students’ aides have resorted to sitting in the hallway, which Huyck said was problematic.

According to MiraCosta, part of the issue is overcrowding and the safety concerns that come with it. Warren said she has never added chairs to a classroom, but she’s always had an informal policy of accepting all students who showed up to her course. This was never a problem until this term, she said.

At the beginning of the summer session, Warren was told by the administration that students who could not fit in her class could take the same class at the San Elijo campus, but Warren didn’t find that to be a feasible solution given that, in addition to having disabilities, “many of the students are poor and have no transportation,” she said. Warren was warned about over-enrolling and said she subsequently complied with what was asked of her.

MiraCosta put the class in a larger room but did not split it into two sections as parents had requested. Huyck explained that the college did not have the resources to accommodate that request.

Huyck wrote that a “series of events” including an incident in which “a student’s extreme disruption resulted in safety concerns” prompted the announcements about student behavior and the campus police.

Warren, who said she’s never had a behavioral incident in her own class, is a beloved instructor. She won the 2018 Faculty Association of California Community Colleges’ Part-Time Faculty of the Year Award. Until two months ago, she had served for three years as the coordinator of the noncredit continuing education program. Warren first learned of her removal when parents asked why her name wasn’t in the course catalogue as the coordinator.

Parents have expressed dismay over MiraCosta’s treatment of Warren. Trish Shortal said, “Krista is a master.” She explained that her son has experienced “tremendous academic growth” in Warren’s class as well as shown great strides in his ability to follow directions and interact socially.

Shortal expressed how parents of adults with disabilities, such as herself, dream of their children becoming “contributing members of society, and MiraCosta is putting barriers up” to the achievement of that goal.

15 Comments
  1. Barbara Orpookins 5 months ago

    Students and members of the public have been appearing before the MiraCosta Board and the Adult Ed Consortium run by MiraCosta admnistrators providing numerous examples of discriminatory practices such as:
    • the failure to include students with disabilities in MCCCD’s equity plan,
    • the assignment of chairs and Deans to the adults with disablities (AwD) program who don’t have experience with students with intellectual disabilities/developmental delalys while other programs get chairs with established experience,
    • the hiring of “permanent” aides in other noncredit classes such as ESL and as proposed for the short term vocational classes but not for the AwD program,
    • the failure to hire full-time faculty for the AwD program in the past even though in the past the student numbers were equal to the numbers used to justify the hiring of full-time faculty for other programs,
    • how despite the state’s provision of funding of over $1 million annually under the Adult Ed Block grant to build MiraCosta’s AwD program and other programs, the enrollment numbers had actually dropped until the advocates and other members of the public got involved to increase outreach and create social media alerts to inform members of the public of the classes such as the classes now offered at the San Elijo Campus (many of the noncredit class catalogs failed to even include the AwD program on its cover so community members were not aware MiraCosta even provided classes),
    • how some students had to register their disability with DSPS before being allowed to attend class even though they had not requested or need accommodations;
    • how “free” aide support to MiraCosta was suddenly kicked out without notice in the middle of the summer term causing the students to similarly have to leave the class while in some other off-campus noncredit classes students get to bring their children and others to class and the list goes on.

    MiraCosta used money from the adult block grant consortium’s public funds even though the consortium had not met publicly as required by the Ed Code and Brown Act to approve the funding for over a year. In at least once instance, the MiraCosta Board found that its administrator’s use of the consortium’s funding for a classified superisor position had not been an allowed use of the consortium’s funding. Families have pleaded for almost a year for MiraCosta to put someone in charge of the AwD program and on the consortium who knows the nuances of this marginalized student community.

    Administration’s response since the public comments and outcry? 1. Elimination of the single leadership role held by the 25 year veteran instructor of the AwD program (who was awarded the top associate faculty award for California and appointed by the state’s community college chancellor’s office to be on one of its field teams), 2. cuts of the TASC (tutoring and academic support center) to the tune of nearly $100K, 3. appointment of department “chairs” who have no experience with students in the adults with disabilities program and nominal experience in noncredit generally, and more.
    When will MiraCosta’s administration finally care enough for this student community to put people in charge with the background, experience and community connections to build this program like what other community colleges are doing?

  2. Rachel Parks 5 months ago

    Thank you for reporting on this!

  3. Michelle Wolfson 5 months ago

    My daughter is in one of the classes visited by Dean Alder on July 9. Students are very upset. It’s not fair to change the rules in the middle of the day, in the middle of the semester, without any prior notice to students, parents, conservators, day programs or the professors. Very short-sighted at best and cruel at worst. At a bare minimum, the dean should apologize to the students for adding to their stress and anxiety. And the college needs to change whatever short-sighted, unfair policy prevents students with developmental and intellectual disabilities from attending and benefiting from classes there.

  4. Janet Schenker 5 months ago

    Thank you for covering this very important subject! Our adult children with disabilities are most often overlooked and forgotten – they are constantly facing discrimination and are usually invisible.

  5. Tonya Murray 5 months ago

    I got an advertisement in the mail about feee classes at Mira Costa. One of the groups featured in the photos and text was adults with developmental disabilities. While my children do not belong to this group and will not need these services, I was disgusted that the college seems to be taking credit for helping this population while at the same time is actively undermining and discouraging their participation. The administration ought to be ashamed of their actions.

    • Lucile Lynch 5 months ago

      Thank you for your comment Tonya!!!

  6. E Montanari 5 months ago

    Coast News, thank you for covering this story. There’s so much more!

  7. Lisa 5 months ago

    Thank you for posting.
    Lisa Gil

  8. Lucile Lynch 5 months ago

    I am not sure why the Board of Trustees is not taking much action on these items. The Trustees’ goal is inclusion, equity and diversity yet nothing has really been corrected since members of the public brought discriminatory practices to their attention starting last November. MiraCosta administrators do not seem to understand what “reasonable” accommodations are under Section 504 of the Rehab Act or the ADA. Aide support, paid for and/or provide by others, I would think is a reasonable accommodation. What’s worse, I heard from staff that the administrators now want to make the students (or their families if conserved), apply EVERY semester to see if they can have an aide in the classroom which will create even more uncertainty about what is allowed semester to semester and unnecessarily cause the use of very limited DSPS services to start with. I can see this policy being necessary if MIRACOSTA were providing the support so that its DSPS office know what resources are needed and so forth, but why do this for support and services they don’t pay for? Will students in offsite classes now have to apply to make sure they can bring their children to classes or does this just apply to AwD? Is this all part of a way to reduce the numbers in the program to try to reduce the need or call for full-time faculty? What’s next? Will administration try to get rid of Basic Aide and move to performance based funding to try to cut out a lot of our community’s programs? Stay tuned but that seems to the be the writing on the wall…

  9. S. Chaffee 5 months ago

    Thanks for covering this important story.
    My son is two years away from being able to attend these classes, which I understand are really well taught and important steps toward independence for adults with intellectual disabilities.
    I am horrified by the way administrators are treating students, however. Aides are the lynchpins in special education. Years of educating students under the Americans with Disabilities Act and experiences of these students in their Pre-K-12 schools attest to their importance. How is this at all compliant with the ADA and years of special education law? My son is at risk for seizures. Without an aide, he cannot attend school. How is the administrations’ policy supportive of him and others like him?
    Most disturbing are the administrations’ attitudes about behavior issues related to students’ disabilities. How does calling the campus police support these students? How is this policy legally compliant? How is this not a flagrant civil rights violation? Moreover, how is it a decent way to treat students? It’s so evident that the administrators and trustees have no experience with this growing student population. Their policies are increasingly discriminatory.
    It seems MCC “leaders” are happy to use students with disabilities on their marketing literature, but are unwilling or unable to support their education once they’re in their classrooms. Please get some administrators with experience in special education to lead these programs now, leaders that know as much about students with disabilities as their teachers do.

  10. Tracey 5 months ago

    As the parent of an adult child with intellectual disabilities, and a MCC student (off-campus), I am completely appalled by this fiasco. I checked to make sure Regional Center is aware of the situation and believe Disabilities Rights of California should be alerted as well.

  11. Laura J Makings 5 months ago

    Thank you for covering this story, there are so many questions, like:
    Why is the Board ignoring the repeated discriminatory practices against students with developmental disabilities?
    Why is Dr. Cooke repeatedly hiring Deans and Chairs who don’t have the background in the programs they’re responsible for? Look what’s happened because of those decisions! I’ve commented at many board meetings about AB86, my big sticking point is on
    page p. 167 – Hiring of a program coordinator ($138.700) and a FT faculty member to teach and serve as administrator ($114K plus benefits) to be done by 2016. It’s 2018 folks, still not done. $1.1 million per year for 3 years in the last plan. I attended the June 2018 consortium budget meeting where money spent in 2017 was approved at the June 2018 meeting. Wait, what?, yes, questionable accounting practices, misappropriated funds, and so much more…
    Why isn’t the Chancellor’s office taking meaningful action regarding how MiraCosta administrators used the AB86 funding without consortium approval? Which investigative agency will take action against these not only illegal, immoral practices?

  12. Jan 5 months ago

    There are state and federal agencies that handle ADA compliance and both should be contacted.

    Palomar College had a great Disabled Student Services department, although that could have changed since I last took daytime classes on campus. If they have not changed their program around, it could serve as an example for MiraCosta.

  13. Tom 5 months ago

    It appears that the faculty members, administrators and individuals at MiraCosta that are and have been involved in making these egregious decisions re: the AwD Program have violated the law. This includes the apparent misappropriation of funds, vague accounting procedures thereof and covering up while doing so – certainly NOT full disclosure. This needs to be pursued with legal recourse ASAP-against the school, the individuals involved and their policies. People and law firms with the legal wherewithal need to step up and help uncover the unprofessional, unfair and unacceptable behavior demonstrated by these individuals at MiraCosta College. Thank you.

  14. Maureen Shifflet 5 months ago

    The actions of Dean Alder and Mira Coasta College are clearly about limiting access to the program. They have terminated the most valuable asset a college can have, an instructor that is well-liked by students. They have put up roadblocks for these students and made it more difficult for them to get an education.
    I’m guessing some will find it too difficult.

    It seems the better choice would be to fire Dean Alder. Any administrator that does not have the educational background to recognize how vulnerable these students are and how important their support systems are to them…
    I’d have to say Dean Alder’s actions appear to be either ignorant or criminal. If a person disrupts class, they are removed and class continues. Never have I heard of an entire class being threatened with police action.
    I do do hope Dean Alder learns to value the students she has violated. They are important citizens that deserve every opportunity and a hand up. Not this!

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