OCEANSIDE — MiraCosta College continues to face allegations of discrimination, lack of public transparency and unclear financial decision-making regarding its Adults with Disabilities Program.
Adults with Disabilities is a noncredit program supporting students who typically range in age from 18 to early 60s and have autism, Down syndrome and various forms of developmental and intellectual delays.
The immediate dismissal of unregistered aides in the middle of the summer term — and Dean Kate Alder’s announcement that the administration had the ability to call campus police in the event of student misbehavior — precipitated student confusion and upset as well as parent outcry, as previously reported by The Coast News.
MiraCosta implemented the new aide policy in July without first warning the students’ parents or conservators. Given that most of the students rely on adult caretakers with power of attorney and that the disabled population can become distressed by changes in routine, the community college’s actions were perceived as insensitive.
On Aug. 21, the second day of the fall term, Kristen J. Huyck, the college’s director of public & governmental relations, marketing & communications, wrote in a statement, “In response to the concern about overcrowding in a classroom this summer, MiraCosta College has put the use of volunteers (unregistered aides) on hiatus until best practices for student support, instructional integrity and safety can all be ensured.”
Citing fire-code concerns, Huyck explained that only MiraCosta classroom aides and pre-registered aides from the college’s community partners would be allowed in classrooms.
But as parent and attorney Lucile Lynch said, “One of the reasons the students need aides is to ensure their safety.” Due to vision issues and physical disabilities, Lynch said that “it makes no sense” to talk about the students’ safety in a one-sided manner while ignoring the safety concerns that arise from removing access to aides, especially without ample warning.
Alder sent an email to students in the Adults with Disabilities Program two days before the fall term commenced explaining that anyone who had an aide from an agency not currently registered with the college should contact her immediately to get the proper paperwork in place. Volunteers would not be allowed.
This announcement created difficulties for students in an Adult Transition Program through San Dieguito Union High School District because those aides would not be available at MiraCosta the week of Aug. 20 since San Dieguito does not start classes until Aug. 28. As a result, several parents ended up enrolling in their children’s MiraCosta classes as a way of getting around the ban on volunteers while ensuring their children’s needs were met.
Regarding transparency, Lynch raised concerns at the MiraCosta board meeting on Aug. 16 about the way meeting minutes were being recorded and asked that they be updated.
In this excerpt from the July 19 meeting minutes, faculty members’ names and the nature of their public comments are clearly identified, while the speakers for Adults with Disabilities are not: “… Associate faculty members Joe Chirra and Al Nyman expressed gratitude for the board of trustee’s (sic) role in the associate faculty negotiations and for the all-star negotiating team provided by Dr. (Sunita) Cooke. Nine community members spoke regarding the Adults with Disabilities Program.”
Lynch pointed out there were 10 speakers and that the nature of their concerns were not reflected in the public record. She said, “One of the reasons we keep asking for correction of your minutes is we believe that the minutes should be an accurate depiction of what the public comments are, yet what we’ve seen is a history of only really reporting the comments when they are positive or complimentary and including much more detail than when the comments are not complimentary and provide concerns or criticism.”
The whitewashing and exclusion of information in meeting minutes has been an ongoing problem, Lynch said, and then enumerated various instances.
Another parent and advocate named Laura Makings asked the board members why they had not yet implemented a full-time faculty person into the Adults with Disabilities Program, as was supposed to happen in 2016 per the AB 86 plan. The board did not address Makings’ question.
Huyck explained in a written statement, “… AB 86 is legislation passed by California that mandated adult education providers throughout the state enter into a regional consortium and develop a plan (not an agreement) for how best to meet the adult education need for their respective region. Under AB 86, no funding guidelines were provided …”
Huyck stated that the appropriation of funds was “significantly lower than the AB 86 plan authors anticipated when the ‘dream’ plan was created. Thus, it created the inability to fully fund the original AB86 proposal. …” Nonetheless, some parents question how funding has been allocated and whether MiraCosta is prioritizing other adult-education programs over Adults with Disabilities.
The Coastal North County Adult Education Consortium (of which MiraCosta is a member) did not hold public meetings from April 19, 2016, until December 13, 2017. The consortium, by its own guidelines, is supposed to meet at least quarterly. Furthermore, the Brown Act requires that financial decisions by legislatively created bodies be made at public meetings, so any financial decisions rendered during that time would have been in violation.
Lynch said that she and others have repeatedly requested an audit for that time period, but one has never been conducted by her knowledge.