Monday, April 11, 2011

California budget cuts may affect programs for community college students with disabilities

From Contra Costa Times:

The Peralta Community College District may cut back on employees who work with nearly 630 disabled Laney College students.

District trustees will vote Tuesday night on whether to reassign one worker and to trim the employment of four others by two months per year. Those lost two months could dramatically affect deaf, blind and wheelchair-bound students during the summer term in particular, said Donna Marie Ferro, a counselor with the program.

"The administration does not have a plan" to help disabled students, she said. "What are we going to do with a deaf student who needs services?"

Similar scenarios have played out at community colleges across California since last year, when the state cut more than half its funding for disabled students. The Peralta district managed to scrape together $1.1 million to cover the loss last year, district spokesman Jeff Heyman said, but additional budget cuts have made it impossible to continue those payments.

"These are very difficult cuts, but they are state-imposed," he said.

A spokeswoman for the state community-college system did not respond to a phone message Monday.

State and federal laws require that colleges accommodate disabled students by providing wheelchair access, note-takers, testing help and other assistance. However, a lack of money has presented campuses with tough choices.

At Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, campus leaders this year began offering early registration to students who agreed to take notes for disabled peers. The college previously had paid note-takers.

Additional budget cuts are expected next year, and college leaders worry that their schools will be unable to meet students' needs.

"It's getting harder and harder" to live up to legal obligations, said Donna Floyd, DVC's interim vice president for student services. "I'm not sure what next year will look like."

Advocates for the disabled say they have received complaints from students unable to get the help they need. Colleges must find a way to serve those students, said Barbara Dickey, an Oakland-based attorney for Disability Rights California.

"Certainly everybody gets that (colleges) are in a tough situation," she said. "But I don't think that there's a defense, in terms of not having money. They have to make accommodations."

Several disabled Laney students said Monday that they rely heavily on the employees whose hours are slated to be cut. Psychology major Kim Cael, who has multiple sclerosis and a learning disability, said cutbacks already have delayed her transfer to a four-year school. She worries that the Laney cuts will leave her unable to attend summer school.

"I'm supposed to be going to Mills College in January," Cael said. "But I can't, as of now."