Commentary

COMMENTARY: Diego Ochoa guided HSD in the right direction

Kim Taylor writes about how the previous superintendent helped bring Hollister School District Special Education Department into compliance.

This commentary was contributed by resident Kim Taylor. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.

 

Don’t point the finger at Mr. Ochoa! He did more for improving HSD special education than I have seen happen in years of advocating for students in this district.

Mr. Ochoa and Gwen Baquiran, Director of HSD Special Education Department worked together to avoid state take over and head in the right direction to provide students’ services they are entitled to and were not receiving. Yes, more people had to be hired! There were multiple violations of state and federal special education laws that could have resulted in the district being taken over by the California Department Office of Education (CDOE).

At the time Mr. Ochoa was hired, CDOE was already investigating district special education violations. Special Education needed a major overhaul and he brought in Gwen Baquiran to take over the special education department. The board was aware of this.

The board was aware the CDOE was actively investigating numerous complaints that had been filed. Disability Rights California provided dedicated attorneys at no cost to parents to help parents sue the district and get what the district should have been providing their kids. Private attorneys had been hired by families to sue the district to get for their children what is guaranteed by federal and state laws.

Some of the violations that Mr. Ochoa remedied are hiring people to translate IEPs into Spanish so that Spanish speaking parents had the opportunity (that they should have had all along) to be able to read the IEPs that they had been asked to agree to without having full understanding and access in their primary language. (This is also a civil right.) There was a two year back up to translate IEPs. Due to Mr. Ochoa’s hiring and leadership those IEPs were translated prior to the beginning of the new school year.

The district was violating a federal law called Child Find that mandates assessing students that are suspected of having learning difficulties/disabilities. Parents and teachers would request student assessment for specific children and the district delayed and did not conduct assessments within the mandated timelines. Mr. Ochoa hired more school psychologists to be able to provide timely assessments. The backlog was cleared up. Children were identified, who had not been receiving the services they needed because they had not been assessed.

Some students needed certain services that the district and county do not have the capability to provide but are required to pay for contracting those services. This had not happened. Mr. Ochoa did his due diligence in getting those students what they needed. That costs money!

Mr. Ochoa restored services for students that had them listed in their IEPs and they had been removed without telling parents and without parents signing agreement. An example is there are some students that require 1:1 support to access their education. Those paraprofessionals had been cut without notifying parents. Paraprofessionals had to be brought back or replaced with new ones.

Resource Specialist Providers (Special Education Teachers) had huge caseloads that violated the mandated limits and it was impossible for students to receive the services they were entitled to. Mr. Ochoa was able to hire more Resource teachers to serve the students the way they needed to be served.

The board has to approve all of these contracts for hiring and contracting special services. Perhaps there were other expenditures that I am not aware of but I do know that Mr. Ochoa focused on the needs of the kids and together with Gwen Baquiran they were able to bring the special education department back into compliance. Gwen continues to work to restore the faith and trust that we lost. It takes time and diligence and I hope this board does not make the mistake of eliminating positions that are needed to provide our kids free and appropriate public education they are entitled to. There will be serious ramifications if the wrong cuts are made.

Look back to previous administrations. There was a FCMAT report done and the report was shelved by the administration who ordered it. Then Dr. Andrew came along and made cuts based on that old report she found and did not exercise due diligence in researching before she made those cuts. This led to lawsuits and compliance complaints. The district was in serious trouble and money had to be spent to get back in compliance and give the kids what they were entitled to by law. Kids needs come first.

 

Kim Taylor