Like many of Marin’s 9-year-olds, Elena Ncho-Oguie has more than enough energy after school to cycle, jump on a trampoline, or walk around her Novato neighborhood with her mother Alicia.
What the fourth grader, who is on the autism spectrum, does not have is specific in-person physical training that could help him learn how to throw a softball, how to be a part of it. ‘a sports team or to dribble a basketball.
Even though Marin Schools are back to in-person learning this fall, Elena has so far only received a 30-minute class per week in what’s called adaptive physical education – or APE – in her special education class at Edna Maguire Primary School in Mill. Valley. The class is administered by the Marin County Education Office.
In addition to being only half of what Elena’s individualized education plan requires, the 30-minute class is remote on Zoom, not in person, and takes place with a teacher from another county, said. Alicia Ncho-Oguie.
“If you can imagine, adaptive physical education on Zoom,” Ncho-Oguie said. Due to the lack of face-to-face contact, the teacher calling Zoom usually just asks the mother and daughter to throw a ball at each other.
“And then she puts on a video that Elena is supposed to watch about stretching,” Ncho-Oguie said.
Elena is not alone.
According to the latest student tally, as of fall 2020, 3,840 students in Marin had IEPs – or individualized educational plans – for special education, Jonathan Lenz said. He administers the Marin County SELPA – or area of the local special education plan – for the county education office.
Of these, Lenz could not say how many APE approvals were included in their education plans because the number was so low “that it can be considered a breach of confidentiality,” Lenz said. .
“We – and the California Department of Education – do not publicly release data sets for students who are below 11,” he said.
Additionally, “not all students with IEPs receive APE services,” Lenz said.
“APE is recommended by a district when it has been determined that a student was unable to participate in a general education physical education program or a modified physical education program,” he said. -he declares.
Among the apparent handful of Marin families who have approvals for adaptive physical education, their children are getting EPA online on Zoom – or not at all, parents said.
“Our family chose to continue working with their provider in this manner as there is currently no other option available that would allow our son to receive all of the agreed-upon minutes in his IEP each week,” said Jenny Novack, parent. from Kentfield, on online courses. .
Novack’s son, Phillip, 9, receives two 30-minute physical education classes per week. Both are on Zoom – one during the school day and the other after school to fit into the teacher’s busy schedule.
“We really think we have no choice,” Novack said.
The problem is, Marin hasn’t been able to hire anyone to fill the only full-time adapted physical education teacher position that’s available, Lenz said.
Because there is not enough demand for each Marin school district to hire its own full-time PTA specialist, the only position is a job-sharing that is pooled among the different districts of the county. Some school districts may only need an adapted physical education teacher for two hours per week, for example.
“In order to meet this need for a qualified provider, the districts have come together to combine their individual needs for APE staff into a single shared position that would collectively meet all of the APE needs within the districts,” said Lenz. “Unfortunately, this position is currently vacant. “
Marin school districts and the county education office are aggressively recruiting for the position – but without success so far, said Mary Jane Burke, superintendent of schools in Marin.
“We have a million openings in a variety of special education positions,” said Burke. “These are specialized positions. We are doing our best to fulfill them.
Marin’s parents, meanwhile, are concerned that their children will not miss out on learning motor skills and socializing as a track and field team that could help them lay the foundation for their participation in sports and physical activities throughout. of their life.
Corte Madera’s Kira Cordasco said her son, Hudson, 11, who is in sixth grade in a class run by Fairfax County, was supposed to receive two 30-minute APE classes per week. So far this fall, he has not received any.
“They said they didn’t have a therapist available,” Cordasco said. “So he missed 13 hours. “
As a result, Hudson “isn’t getting the PE that other kids get and what’s required by law,” Cordasco said.
“He is not developing fundamental skills – playing ball, throwing, motor coordination – lifelong skills that he will need in order to be able to engage with his peers,” she said.
Cordasco said she thinks there are a lot of Marin parents who don’t even know their kids could get APE.
“They don’t know they can ask for it,” she said. “I defend the cause of my son and I defend all the other children who should follow a specialized physical education with a therapist in adapted physical education. “
All California public elementary students through grade six are expected to complete a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days. Beginning in grade seven, students are expected to have 400 minutes every 10 days.
Even if all of Marin’s adaptive physical education classes went as planned, they would still fall short of what was required by state law – and they would still only cover a fraction of the total number of students. in special education in the county. Lenz said he has no word on what the state could do to hold school districts accountable if the situation in Marin is not resolved.
“If the district does not provide the required compensatory services, the district may be found to be non-compliant,” he said. “The California Department of Education may undertake monitoring activities to ensure the district is in compliance. “