You are currently viewing The California Advisory Commission Annual Report: 2019-20

The California Advisory Commission Annual Report: 2019-20


During its 2019–2020 meeting year the California Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) witnessed unprecedented levels of collaboration and partnership across divisions, agencies, and initiatives involved with the education of children and youth with disabilities. The ACSE celebrates the degree to which public education in the state is steadily becoming one integrated and coordinated system that can identify, respond to, and be equipped to support the unique needs of the whole child. 

This same year the novel coronavirus pandemic caused unforeseen levels of disruption in every sector. While creating untold challenges of its own, the pandemic has also served to highlight long-existing inequities and weaknesses in the social, educational, and political systems, both statewide and nationally. The commissioners hope that a renewed and acute awareness of these challenges will serve to strengthen the resolve of policymakers and educators everywhere—redoubling prevention and early intervention efforts and fortifying a continued commitment to creating a coherent and aligned educational system that addresses inequitable practices and improves outcomes for students both with and without disabilities.

ACSE Strategic Plan and Legislative Platform

As an advisory body, the ACSE regularly re-examines its focus to stay informed and be attentive to issues that influence school outcomes for students with disabilities as the field of special education evolves. During its 2019–2020 meeting year, the ACSE revisited and reconfirmed its Strategic Plan and Legislative Platform, which articulates the commission’s commitment to the creation of one coherent system of education that effectively serves the needs of every student. This system ensures that students with disabilities receive a high-quality education that prepares them for a successful transition to adult life, independence, and career/job readiness. By advocating for and supporting the following positions, the ACSE seeks to help California realize this vision.

ACSE Strategic Plan and Legislative Platform

The ACSE supports initiatives that promote (a) inclusion; (b) the successful completion of high school; (c) college, career, and community readiness; (d) access to necessary educational services; and (e) adequate funding for special education. To facilitate these outcomes, the ACSE recommends that the following considerations guide education-related legislation and initiatives:

Student-Centered Approaches

Ensure that all students are general education students first and that they receive universal supports, meaningful access to core curriculum, and challenging content standards. Ensure that educators support students to develop skills that prepare them to be civically engaged, independent learners, and college and career ready.

Positive Learning Outcomes

Ensure that instruction is universally designed and differentiated to meet the needs of the whole child. Ensure that assessments are aligned to instruction, with appropriate supports and accommodations and/or modifications in place to ensure the opportunity for students to fully demonstrate knowledge, skills, and growth.

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

Ensure a coherent intervention model that is built on a framework of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), using data-driven decision-making and evidence-based practices that prioritize student strengths to meet their academic, behavioral, and/or social-emotional needs within an equitable, inclusive learning environment.

Family-Community Collaboration

Build and strengthen infrastructures that promote and sustain collaboration between schools and families (a) to
ensure active, authentic, and meaningful family engagement; and (b) to create trusting family and community partnerships in a culturally responsive manner.

Successful Transition

Emphasize early post-secondary transition planning to ensure that all students have access to the full range of career and technical pathways aimed at promoting self-determination and developing independence through post-secondary education and/or competitive integrated employment opportunities.

Liaison Reports

The ACSE is able to advise successfully only to the degree to which it has knowledge of the most effective and critical services and supports for students with disabilities. Liaisons to the commission and liaison reports help to ensure this success.

The ACSE hears reports at each meeting from these liaisons. The ACSE is especially appreciative of the regular reports from the California State Board of Education’s (SBE) liaison, which keep the commission updated on the SBE’s key issues. This liaison serves as a staunch advocate for students with disabilities on both the SBE and the ACSE. 

The ACSE commissioners themselves maintain full schedules of representation at meetings and events throughout the state and report to the ACSE on such important topics as adult transition, high school diploma pathways, youth leadership, mental health services, multi-tiered system of supports, teacher credentialing, positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), and the Special Olympics.

Division Director’s Report

The Director of California’s Special Education Division (SED), Kristin Wright, reported at three of the ACSE’s four meetings, describing the work of the division and its evolving focus. The ACSE appreciated Wright’s vision of special education operating as an integral contribution to developing a unified system of education, and welcomed the expanded partnerships that she helped to strengthen among divisions and agencies. The commission viewed the following efforts of the SED as signs of clear progress in the field:

  • The expansion of inclusive options in early care and early education settings that are culturally and linguistically responsive, attend to issues of diversity and climate, and embrace the principles of universal design for learning (UDL). The ACSE shares the belief that when children with disabilities are included with their typically developing peers during their earliest years, they are more likely to stay included, not just during their schooling but into and throughout their adult lives.
  • Collaborative work with the Department of Rehabilitation to promote workforce preparation initiatives, expand integrated work settings, ensure living and family-sustaining wages for individuals with disabilities following the completion of high school, and generally promote the expectation that all children can become adults who earn a competitive wage and live in inclusive settings.
  • Collaborative work with the English Learners Support Division to develop a guide for teachers and parents to more effectively support English language learners with disabilities.
  • The engagement of Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) in an expanded role within the larger System of Support for Local Educational Agencies (LEAs). The ACSE sees Wright’s one-system lens as key to SELPA leadership and resources now serving all students. Money for this support is coming to SELPAs through general funds—another sign of disappearing silos in the state’s larger system of education.
  • The alignment of federal compliance requirements with outcomes and a commensurate focus on continuous improvement.
  • The division’s response to new federal data requirements related to determining disproportionality and significant disproportionality, which have increased the number of schools and LEAs identified as being disproportionate. This response involves a change in how students are identified for special education services by eliciting the expertise of school psychologists and involving them with parents and qualified professionals to review evaluation results and together make a determination, while addressing such issues as implicit bias.
  • The call to work more collaboratively with practitioners in the field and with parents to learn “practical ideas about how to make things work. We’re only as good as the feedback we get about how we’re doing,” says Wright.

The ACSE also appreciated Wright’s perspective on the court cases the division faces, using these legal challenges as incentives to re-examine and improve the division’s monitoring system.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, ACSE’s April meeting was canceled. With Wright leaving her position as director in June, Stacey Wedin, Aaron Christensen, and Shiyloh Duncan-Becerril reported on the work of the division at the June meeting, detailing the SED’s rapid and energetic response to school site closures. The ACSE welcomed the news of two major projects that the division undertook in response to the pandemic:

  1. Distance Learning Webinars, with leadership from the Supporting Inclusive Practices Project spearheading these online events, which focused on strategies for distance learning, support for families and parents, transition, related services, and mental health and behavior.
  2. An Innovative Solutions Workgroup, which met virtually for five weeks to research and recommend for students, teachers, and families the most helpful resources available for their use while school sites were closed and educators worked to continue to provide services and instruction remotely.

Even though many questions remain about service provision while school sites are closed—such as how to fulfil the terms of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), how to ensure equitable access, and how to address special considerations for students with disabilities when schools reopen—the ACSE anticipates continued and strengthened collaboration among parents, schools, service providers, and other critical partners. While the ACSE is particularly concerned about students with disabilities who are physically vulnerable, commissioners count on the California Department of Education (CDE) to develop new protocols for monitoring and reinforcing safety for every student.

The ACSE appreciates the division’s commitment to monitoring student progress during school site closures and looks forward to further guidance on balancing health and safety with effective instruction. The ACSE also appreciates the state’s focus on local control and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) emphasis on individualization.

The Public Voice

The ACSE commissioners value the perspectives of those individuals who share their commitment to ensuring effective instruction for students with disabilities and the ideas these individuals have for improving education and services. SELPA administrators, representatives from county offices of education (COEs), leaders from family centers, teachers, parents, and others who are committed to positive outcomes for children with disabilities regularly appear at ACSE meetings and voice their opinions, share their experiences, and offer information to the commission. These advocates for effective, high-quality services for students keep the commission apprised of trends, successes, and concerns that may otherwise never surface. The ACSE is more informed and aware because of them.

Disability Awareness

Joe Xavier, director of the Department of Rehabilitation, celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month with the ACSE. Xavier spoke of how this designation serves to increase cross-sector awareness of the importance of employment for individuals with disabilities. In addition, Xavier emphasized the necessity of improving collaboration, coordination, and partnerships across all sectors so that, as students enter the  workforce, they can meet the needs of employers; work in competitive, integrated settings; and obtain living-wage employment.

The ACSE applauded the following key messages from Xavier:

  • There must be a change of mindset among educators, away from “case ownership” and toward coordinated, collective partnerships to improve employment, opportunity, and choice for students with disabilities. A seamless coordination of all available resources to better serve the individual is not the elimination of specialization. Collective efforts generate a greater outcome than the efforts of any one system.
  • Better jobs and family-sustaining wages must become the expectation and the norm.
  • Public assistance must be seen as a pathway to independence, not as an end in itself.
  • Schools, families, and communities must ensure that students with disabilities have the hard skills that the workforce requires, the necessary certifications and credentials for work, the requisite soft skills required by the workplace, a mindset that is open to sharing and learning, and a belief in themselves.
  • All students with disabilities must leave school able to continually learn and adapt so they can change as job requirements and communities change.
  • Inclusive practices in schools must be supported and strengthened. “Inclusive education prepares kids to work in integrated environments and to live in integrated communities.”

Xavier asks all adults to “give children a growing sense of purpose. I must hold myself and society accountable for making this happen.”

Annual Performance Report

Every state that receives federal money under the terms of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must submit a State Performance Plan (SPP) to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) indicating how the state will use those dollars to fulfill the requirements of IDEA and improve outcomes for students with disabilities. To update OSEP on its enactment of this plan, California sends OSEP an Annual Performance Report (APR) to outline how the state is abiding by the terms of the IDEA through its SPP. Specifically, the APR charts how the state is meeting its targets for 17 federal indicators that reflect the state’s success in addressing such issues as dropout rates, student placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE), preschool outcomes, parent involvement, and others. 

The federal government requires states to establish targets for each indicator. A six-year reporting cycle has just ended, and with a new cycle beginning, the SED is writing a new SPP to reflect California’s revised state targets for each of the federally defined indicators for the next six years. While waiting for the federal government to specify its indicator requirements, the SED is convening a workgroup for the CDE to elicit feedback on its indicator targets and how to reach them. 

In terms of current numbers, the ACSE was pleased to learn that California is “going in the right direction” in meeting many of its indicator targets. While every advocate would like to see faster improvement, the commissioners understand the complexities and challenges of creating change in a state as large and diverse as California. At the same time, the ACSE understands the urgency of improving learning environments, supports, and outcomes for students with disabilities to ensure their success in adult life. The ACSE knows that outcomes improve when students with disabilities have access to quality instruction, when they have the skills to self-advocate, and when they are held to appropriately rigorous academic standards. These considerations guide the ACSE’s charge to hear and advise on all new proposed SPP targets before they are approved by the State Board of Education and submitted to OSEP. 

Systemic Improvement Plan

The ACSE also received a report from the SED about the State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP), an IDEA requirement specific to Indicator 17, which requires states to develop and implement a plan that focuses on improving educational results for students with disabilities. This plan is part of the SPP/APR.

The purpose of the SSIP, which the division worked to realize between 2013 and 2019, was to achieve coherence and alignment across state and federal systems to address the needs of students with disabilities as well as to create and strengthen a system of education that is designed around coordinated efforts to serve the needs of all students.

The ACSE applauded the efforts of the SSIP to align supports for students with disabilities with the supports for all students that are directed through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The fact that 70 percent of students with disabilities are also represented in one or more of the student groups that LCFF targets serves to strengthen the SSIP’s theory of action.

The ACSE celebrated the fact that special education has become an integral part of the larger system of education and is now consistently included at the beginning of efforts to design initiatives, legislation, and programs. The ACSE moved to support the SSIP and to recommend that the SBE approve the plan.

Accountability and Assessment

Since the passage of the LCFF, the ACSE has carefully attended to the progress the state has made in creating and refining its system of accountability for schools and LEAs. The ACSE welcomed regular invitations from the CDE to provide a perspective on how to most effectively shape state indicators and define conditions related to students with disabilities so that the data gathered is accurate and actionable.

This year, the CDE sought feedback from the commission on absentee protocols for students who are medically fragile. The ACSE moved to recommend that the CDE define “medically fragile” very specifically to protect students from being recorded as truant and to prevent abuse of the definition due to misunderstanding. 

While summary results for the 2019 California School Dashboard reflected statewide gains across most of the Dashboard’s measurement indicators, chronic absenteeism was on the rise for students with disabilities. This issue is an area of concern for the ACSE commissioners, who trust that it will be closely examined and addressed moving forward.

The Dashboard also registered a decline in the graduation rate of students with disabilities. While this decline also is cause for concern, the ACSE recognizes that the lower number may in part reflect students who take longer than four years to graduate. The ACSE remains in favor of including every student’s graduation in the state’s accountability data, no matter how many years a student needs to complete his or her coursework.

The ACSE also heard with great interest reports on the process for identifying LEAs that are slated to receive additional support under the LCFF through the Dashboard and the determination that students with disabilities represent the group within these LEAs that was in greatest need of support. More districts and COEs are eligible for differentiated assistance as a result of the scores of these students than for any other reason. The ACSE appreciated the numerous eligibility avenues for LEAs (including school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools) to receive differentiated assistance in response to their Dashboard scores and to receive the support they need in a targeted and timely fashion.

The ACSE recognizes the challenge CDE’s Analysis, Measurement and Accountability Reporting Division faces in determining accurate and helpful College and Career Readiness measures for students with disabilities. Devising strategies for collecting relevant data—especially data related to work-based learning as it differs from classroom-based learning—creates an additional challenge.

The ACSE is in support of accurate data tracking that strengthens transition efforts and contributes to favorable employment outcomes in adult life.

The ACSE heard with interest the CDE’s plans to align Dashboard indicators with the California Alternate Assessment (CalAlt) for students who attend alternate schools. The ACSE recognizes how the different standards and reporting scales used in the Smarter Balanced and the CalAlt assessments pose challenges to creating this alignment.

The ACSE also appreciates the challenge CDE faces in determining accurate and helpful College and Career Readiness measures for students with disabilities and strategies for collecting relevant data for these measures. One specific aspect of this challenge involves figuring out how to record work-based learning in a way that is distinct from classroom-based learning.

Because the ACSE is mindful of the importance of equitable instruction, support, and assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities, who represent one percent of the total number of students with disabilities in the state, the commission does not see the current College and Career Indicator in the California School Dashboard as reflecting “what students with disabilities face.” The ACSE would like to see a modified indicator for these students. In general, the ACSE is in support of accurate data tracking that strengthens transition efforts and contributes to favorable work-place outcomes in adult life.

The ACSE admires CDE’s commitment to creating an accountability system that is as rigorous for alternative schools as it is for other schools. The commission welcomed the introduction of the Dashboard Alternative School Status (DASS) program and the DASS Toolkit to support alternate schools in these accountability efforts. The ACSE will continue to study the efforts of the CDE as it works with the SBE to incorporate modified indicators into the Dashboard.

The ACSE applauded the CDE’s launch of a mobile app that makes it easy for parents to follow their student’s progress on state assessments. The ACSE also welcomed the news that money in the state budget is making it possible to translate the Dashboard into five languages, including Tagalog.

The Analysis, Measurement and Accountability Reporting Division has provided the commission with regular updates on assessments, accommodations, and designated supports for students with disabilities, and regularly has sought the advice and direction of the ACSE on issues related to accessibility. Through its responsiveness and commitment to students, this division has developed a full array of accessibility options for students, along with clear instructional guidelines for their appropriate use. The ACSE applauds the level of training and support this division provides for teachers, making it possible for them to be confident and informed as they administer assessments. The division has also designed tests that not only produce accurate information about student progress but also deliver feedback on how to continue improving the test itself.

The ACSE was pleased to learn that the state’s assessment consortium, Smarter Balanced, is continually exploring new ways to make state assessments more accessible to students, with the newest  accommodations including pictorial glossaries and audio transfers that allow children to hear the text in a test while they see it on the screen. The ACSE is hopeful that the assessments’ supports and accommodations are used consistently across LEAs, and that the need for individualization is carefully attended to for every child, both in the classroom and during tests. The ACSE appreciates the full range of accessibility resources that currently are available, as well as the Analysis, Measurement and Accountability Reporting Division’s relentless pursuit of new resources. The division’s Accessibility Resource Usage Study is designed to find out whether assigned resources are actually used and how they influence student outcomes. The ACSE looks forward to the findings of this study.

With most assessments moving away from paper-and-pencil formats and toward online environments, the ACSE appreciates the challenges that teachers face in determining the readiness of students to navigate virtual platforms. The ACSE welcomed the news that the division is creating a “Technology Readiness Tracker”—an app that evaluates a student’s ability to effectively use online tools and that determines his or her level of technology readiness.

In June the Analysis Development and Administration Division reported on a study it is conducting about the use of the Alternate English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC). This assessment is designed to help determine a more accurate level of English proficiency for students with significant cognitive disabilities so each can be appropriately classified as an English learner (EL) or as “initial fluent English proficient.” A second assessment, the Summative Alternate ELPAC, will provide information on a student’s annual progress toward English proficiency and whether the student should be reclassified as “fluent English proficient.” The ACSE sees these assessments as important components of a system where “everyone counts,” especially in California where thousands of students are English learners.

California System of Support

The ACSE welcomed a presentation from the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) on the state’s System of Support, which is part of California’s school accountability system. Within this system, the CCEE works in partnership with CDE to use  improvement science, LCFF performance plans, Dashboard reports, and other data to customize quality supports for schools and LEAs and improve student outcomes.

This System of Support includes a network of agencies that are charged with providing leadership, expertise, programs, and resources in specific topic areas so that local educators and administrators can develop the skills and knowledge they need for their particular roles. Topic areas include equity, disproportionality, autism, community engagement, early mathematics instruction, and multi-tiered system of supports, among others. These areas of focus are part of the effort to support continuous improvement, address achievement gaps, and strengthen outreach and collaboration with stakeholders.

Support is available at three levels: a universal level for all, a targeted (differentiated) level to address performance issues that have been identified in the Dashboard, and an intensive intervention level for LEAs with challenges that persist over time.

The ACSE appreciates the fact that “collaboration is hard to do,” and that these lead agencies “are helping people figure it out.”  The ACSE also appreciates the role of CCEE as a driver in the effort to identify, develop, and expand expertise through a coordinated and linked system. The ACSE sees the wide range of supports and topics addressed through the System of Support as central to the larger system’s ultimate success in addressing the widely differing needs among schools and districts. 

SELPA State Improvement Leads

SELPAs have embraced the role of System Improvement Leads within the statewide System of Support. These SELPA Leads offer resources and assistance to LEAs to improve outcomes for all students. Specific goals include strengthening data collection and its targeted use, applying the principles of improvement science to create cultures of quality and continuous improvement in schools, and introducing and sustaining high levels of coaching and practice to institutionalize those cultures.

Building on the work that has been done monitoring State Performance Plan Indicators, the SELPA Leads plan to create a comprehensive, coordinated, and accurate data system that provides actionable information without significant lags in time.  These efforts are intended to help LEAs know where they need to improve and how to take advantage of SELPA Improvement Lead support to ensure that improvement.

The ACSE supports these efforts and see them as one more sign of the system of education becoming more coordinated and effective each year.

Finance Update

The Department of Finance reported to the ACSE twice during the year, updating the commission on the Governor’s budget proposal and its implications for special education.

In October, the commission welcomed the news of a proposed budget increase of $645 million in base funding for special education and the department’s plan to facilitate a two-year, multi-phase exploration of how to develop a new funding formula for special education that is equitable across SELPAs. The proposed budget also would fund new workgroups to explore such topics as IEP templates, alternate pathways for diplomas, out-of-home care, and strategies to make state funding for mental health care more flexible.

In future phases of reform, the Governor’s budget proposes dyslexia research, training, and a statewide conference on the subject. The budget also proposes enhanced teacher recruitment and preparation efforts, family and student engagement reform, and whole-child and family services—all with the goal of improving special education finance, services, and student outcomes.

The commissioners understand how COVID-19 changes many aspects of nearly every budget item and especially appreciated the Governor’s continued commitment to special education through the pandemic. The ACSE sees this budget as “a culmination” of ongoing efforts in the state to create one system of education.


The ACSE received updates from legislative representatives and CDE consultants about legislation that influences special education in California. The commission marked important changes to special education statutes related to nonpublic schools and behavioral interventions (AB 1172), assistive technology devices and charter schools (AB 605), and statutory changes to information related to bullying and harassment (AB 34).

The language of both the Education Code and the Penal Code has been amended to delete the phrase “at risk” and replace it with the term “at promise” (AB 413). Ed Code now authorizes the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) to make it possible for those who want to earn an education specialist credential to apply two years of work experience with a preliminary credential to their degree goal (AB 413). Ed Code also states that students in grades kindergarten through five cannot be suspended for disruptive behavior or willful defiance (SB 419). And AB 1172 strengthens the reporting requirements for nonpublic schools when a student is involved with law enforcement.

While AB 1914 is still working its way through the Senate, the ACSE was especially pleased to see its progress, as this bill is the first to specifically target inclusion. The ACSE followed and supported AB 2066, which would create Family Empowerment Centers (FECs) in new areas of the state as well as improve coordination between CDE and FECs. The ACSE recognizes that families of children with disabilities need support and would like to see FECs in each of the 32 areas of California.

The ACSE was briefed on AB 2657, legislation that the state legislature passed in 2019 to provide clear guidelines for using the practices of seclusion and restraint as disciplinary responses to student behavior. The law also provides policy guidance for improving school climate and practices overall.

These and other pieces of legislation reflect an emerging pattern of special education as a legislative priority, and of students with disabilities now being considered alongside students in general education while legislation is crafted and not solely as an afterthought.

Teacher Credentialing

Representatives from the CTC updated the ACSE on activities to ensure teacher quality in the state and to address teacher shortages. The CTC is developing new teacher credentialing standards for those professionals who will work with students with mild to moderate support needs and those with extensive support needs. The new standards will require teacher candidates to complete a teaching performance assessment, which the CTC is slated to have develop by the fall of 2020. The CTC is conducting focus groups across the state to inform the development of these assessments. The information collected will be given to a design team that will develop the new performance assessments.

The CTC is also overseeing several programs to increase opportunities for clinical practice in the state, strengthen the support system for new and established special educators, and address teacher attrition rates and teacher shortages.

For years the ACSE has closely followed the crisis of teacher shortages and welcomes efforts to increase both the number and quality of special educators in California.

Early Childhood Special Education

The ACSE learned of the CDE’s efforts to increase inclusive practices in preschool and early childhood settings and to ensure that all efforts to support early childhood initiatives are coordinated and collaborative. The ACSE understands the critical importance of early intervention and prevention services that can be strengthened and enhanced in inclusive settings, and was additionally pleased to learn that initiatives also will address emotional challenges and early childhood trauma. The ACSE welcomed the news that these collaborative early childhood efforts will seek solutions to the struggles that many families face when their children transition from Part C Early Start IDEA services to Part B services.

English Language Learners

The ACSE studied the coordinated efforts within the CDE to ensure that a child’s special education-related needs and any accompanying needs related to learning English do not compete. Toward this end, CDE has developed the California Practitioners’ Guide for Educating English Learners with Disabilities, which is designed to help teachers recognize and meet the unique needs of each child with a disability who is not yet proficient in English.

The ACSE appreciated the intense level of coordination across divisions that this document represents and its consistent message that each teacher is responsible for all students in the classroom. The guide also reflects state policy that recognizes and promotes the benefits of multi- and bilingualism and expresses a commitment to the benefit of keeping students with disabilities in dual-language classes.

The guide, which recommends and illustrates a wide range of strategies for supporting students, was designed to serve as a resource for all teachers and administrators. The ACSE appreciates the guide’s attention to a multi-tired system of supports, which is embedded throughout the document and makes it useful for general educators as well as special educators.

With English language learners representing one of the four student groups targeted for general education LCFF funding, and with more than 220,000 students with disabilities in California who are also English learners, the ACSE sees this guide as one more indication of the state moving toward one coherent system of education that serves the needs of all students.

Social-Emotional Learning

ACSE commissioners understand the central role that social and emotional learning (SEL) plays in the life of every child. As such, it welcomed a presentation from the Social and Emotional Learning Community of Practice (COP) that reiterated the reasons SEL is so important for students: SEL has a positive impact on classroom behavior and school climate. SEL favorably affects both the students and the adults in a school. And SEL directly contributes to improved achievement levels for students with disabilities—and for all students. The ACSE especially appreciated the COP’s argument for including students with disabilities in general education classrooms as foundational to SEL for all students. The ACSE welcomed news that California and 29 other states are participating in a Collaborating States Initiative for SEL, and that California is using this initiative to launch an SEL State Team to advance the development of a thoughtful and integrated SEL curriculum in all schools. The ACSE looks forward to seeing the expansion of the COP into a statewide community of practices, as County Offices of Education in Oakland and Sacramento lead collaborative SEL efforts with other county offices and school districts across the state.

The ACSE has seen SEL as an ongoing priority in California. The state’s preschool curriculum framework has served for years as a national model for SEL standards, and California’s CORE districts have assumed the challenge of finding ways to measure SEL in schools. The ACSE commissioners have experienced firsthand the importance of SEL, especially in reducing bullying on school campuses. The commission welcomes any SEL curriculum that would help all students learn how to communicate their feelings and needs in a healthy manner and develop compassion. As such, the ACSE applauds these efforts to explore the foundations of SEL and establish guiding principles and curriculum for the state.

Civic Engagement

The ACSE was updated on the efforts of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a State Seal of Civic Engagement for students in California. This seal would serve as a commendation for those who demonstrate excellence in civics education and who have shown an understanding of the U.S. and the California Constitutions and a democratic system of government. The ACSE will follow with interest the process of this initiative as it is reviewed by the public and presented to the SBE for feedback and potential adoption. The ACSE is supportive of any initiative that provides avenues for students with disabilities to be recognized for their school performance and their commitment to the ideals of the republic.

Pandemic Reflections

The ACSE took time to reflect on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for students with disabilities, their families, and their schools. The ACSE noted that few educators or related service providers (those who deliver speech or mental health therapies, for example) were prepared to work remotely. The ACSE applauded the efforts of the many professionals who were able to quickly adapt to virtual classrooms and services.

Many parents, ACSE commissioners among them, have gained a heightened appreciation for the work of teachers and the important role that schools play in the lives of their children. In turn, many teachers and school administrators have developed new levels of appreciation for what parents have been able to accomplish as they’ve taken on the role of their children’s teachers during school site closures. Within the educational community, the ACSE has seen a growing understanding of the importance of cross-agency collaboration for ensuring the welfare and safety of children—during the pandemic and after.

The ACSE expects that the experience of school site closures in response to the pandemic will serve to refashion schools in ways that build on a new awareness of the role schools play in the lives of children, families, and communities. The ACSE anticipates that schools, in addition to being places of learning, will become vehicles for leveling social inequities, guiding healthy social interactions and development, and collaborating across all sectors to better serve children.

Parent Perspective

To be fully informed, ACSE commissioners rely on the perspective of parents and families whose children are profoundly influenced by the education they receive. Representatives from Family Empowerment Centers (FECs) reported to the ACSE on the challenges parents were facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways that California’s family centers were supporting parents to address those challenges. Many people consider the resources and creative responses that these centers provide to families as essential services.  The increased activity that centers have seen—in the number of parents participating in online seminars and trainings (with attendance doubling in some instances) and in requests for peer-to-peer support and resources—points to the unquestionable value of these centers.

The ACSE welcomed the centers’ reports about the creative options that schools were providing to parents and children, with academic curriculum made more flexible and IEP goals embedded into daily activities, schedules, and routines. The centers also reported appreciating the “proactive and ongoing communication from CDE and educators.”

Parent center staff did report some challenges. These included inconsistent and inequitable access to educational opportunities for children with disabilities, along with struggles related to remote learning strategies. Parents of students with moderate to severe disabilities were especially tested, given the limitations of distance learning for their children and the isolation they often feel, even outside of pandemic times. In addition, educational materials in some places were not translated into the language of the families, and some families did not have the means to create learning spaces for their children. Not infrequently, parents lacked the technology skill needed to most effectively support their children’s engagement in online or remote learning.

The ACSE supports the recommendations that FECs made to bridge gaps in access and communication; to provide training and guidance to parents and educators on effective distance-learning strategies; to create flexibility and options in service delivery and learning environments; to establish clear and updated policies, processes, and practices; and to devise ways to enhance connections with parent and family centers.

Example from the Field

The ACSE welcomed a presentation by staff from the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE) as they shared plans for re-opening special education classrooms at their school sites during the pandemic. The MCOE’s guiding principles in planning this reopening reflected a commitment to serving students with the greatest need, to sharing their plan and protocols with the larger MCOE community, and to modeling an effective approach for other counties.

The ACSE admired the amount of collaboration that was involved in MCOE’s efforts to plan the re-opening, especially the degree to which it included parents and other stakeholders. The ACSE also recognized the reliance on data and a process of continuous improvement that were integral to MCOE’s efforts and appreciated MCOE’s willingness to “take calculated risks” in developing and implementing its plan. The ACSE also appreciated the clarity and firm rules and requirements that were part of MCOE’s reopening plan and sees them as central to ensuring the health of students and staff.


During ACSE’s 2019–2020 meeting year, several people who served on and for the commission changed roles.

Gina Plate left the ACSE after serving as a commissioner for eight years, chairing it for four. Gina’s term will be remembered for the thoughtful and packed agendas she helped create and the sensitive discussions she led, as well as for her unflagging commitment to improved outcomes for students with disabilities. The ACSE will miss her grace, good humor, and spirit of collaboration.

Barbara Schulman left the ACSE after serving eight years as an unflinching advocate for students with significant disabilities. A passion for ensuring that every student is taught to high standards and experiences a successful transition to adult life marked Barbara’s tenure. Barbara served the commission with honesty, inspiration, and integrity.

Mildred Browne was a dedicated ACSE commissioner for six years, leading, guiding, and energizing the ACSE Mental Health subgroup. Mildred helped to inform the commission and the public of important and unprecedented improvements to mental health services for students in the state. She brought commitment, intelligence, and a relentless work ethic to the ACSE.

In June the ACSE bid farewell to Kristin Wright, former commissioner, former ACSE chair, executive secretary to the commission, and Director of the Special Education Division. While embodying the power and importance of the parent perspective in improving services and outcomes for students with disabilities, Kristin also modeled how curiosity and openness to new methods of systems change, creative ideas, and high standards can transform the most intractable elements of a system. The commission will miss her vision, her leadership, her intelligence, her friendship, and especially her commitment to children.

All four of these individuals were special educators by training and active in and integral to California’s evolution toward a system of education that is more collaborative, unified, and coherent. The commission has no doubt that each of these women will remain dedicated to serving students with disabilities in everything they do. The ACSE will sorely miss each of them.

A directory of the commissioners and others who serve on the ACSE, along with dates and locations for the meetings in 2020–2021, can be found on the ACSE website:
To view ACSE meetings via live webcast, go to