Mountain View Whisman School District officials are doubling down on a commitment to build better facilities for the high-need students, announcing plans last week to construct a specialized classroom at Landels Elementary for children with significant physical disabilities.
On any given day this year, the school district will be in the midst of renovating, demolishing and constructing classrooms on five to eight of its campuses, using the building boom as an opportunity to anchor special education classrooms at Bubb, Huff and Landels elementary schools. For years, special education students have struggled with being moved from campus to campus, depending on space available, and families have long fought for a permanent home for so-called Special Day classes.
The school district is planning to convert the multipurpose room at Landels Elementary into a large specialized classroom for students with multiple disabilities, particularly those with physical and orthopedic impairments that require more accommodations. Gary Johnson, the district's special education director, described these students as medically fragile and in need of a double-sized room for both classroom activities as well as therapy services.
"It's primarily for the space," Johnson told the Voice on Monday. "It has to serve two dual functions -- you have to have instruction and academic work out of the way of the therapy."
At the Feb. 1 school board meeting, Johnson said that teachers and staff are making do with a smaller, makeshift facility at Theuerkauf, but it can be a logistical challenge. The classroom has a teacher, two instructional assistants and, throughout the week, sees visits from speech and occupational therapists, vision specialists and adaptive physical education specialists, among others, he said.
These high-needs students spend the majority of their day in that classroom, spending recess, lunch and physical education as a group. They tend to require help throughout the day because they have multiple physical disabilities, including students who are deaf, blind, hard of hearing and have a vision or orthopedic impairment, he said.
"The curriculum is focused on life skills and functional academics to help bring them to the highest level they can achieve, with a goal of being as independent as possible in their future lives," Johnson told board members.
Design considerations for the new classroom include small but meaningful adjustments like anti-glare surfaces, Johnson said, which is important for students with physical impairments who can't avert their eyes from reflected light and can't communicate that it's a problem to classroom aides.
Most of the students in need of the specialized facility are on the younger side, but it's clear that one of the district's two middle schools will need a similar classroom building once they get older, Johnson said. District officials are working on a way to provide a comparable facility for medically fragile students at Graham Middle School.
A total of 10 students fall under the category of medically fragile, which is within the sweet spot suitable for the planned space and the number of district staff committed to helping them, Johnson said.
The final phase of construction at Buff, Huff and Landels involves transforming the multipurpose rooms at each campus into two special education classrooms -- or just one classroom in the case of Landels -- and moving the district's often-transient Special Day classes out of older modular buildings, most of which are no larger than 960 square feet.
Designs for the new special education classrooms are expected to include 60-inch televisions for classroom activities, small-group instructional areas, a teacher station and a bathroom included within the classroom. Johnson said the Special Day classes will also stake out enough space for assessments related to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), which are the backbone of academic planning for special needs students.
"Sometimes finding a quiet, confidential space is hard on a campus, and this will be a dedicated place for that to happen," he said.
The mild- to moderate-disability Special Day classrooms at Bubb Elementary will be relocated from modular buildings to the renovated multipurpose room on campus, while the moderate- to severe-disability Special Day classrooms at Landels will be relocated to Huff Elementary.
The four portables at Slater Elementary that house preschool students eligible for special education are expected to be moved to the shared Stevenson and Slater campus site, pending the re-opening of Slater Elementary School in 2019, Johnson said.