School makes special education students sort trash

Marcus, a ninth-grade student new to the Patriot High School’s Special Education program, was not impressed on his first day of high school when he was told after lunch to put on gloves and an apron to dig through trash, alongside other students with special needs.

“My kid should not be in the garbage can for your recycling,” said Carmen Wells, Marcus’ mother when Jurupa Unified School District officials confirmed the long-standing tradition of having special education students sift through trash cans to find and separate recycled items. According to Wells, her son’s teacher told her the project was part of a functional skills training program to teach students how to manage money since the money raised in recyclables is used to fund field trips and food for a cooking program.

Wells, joined by another parent, took to social media to express their concerns about the proper way to recycle, whether such a recycling project could be demeaning to special education students, and the dangers inherent in sorting through garbage.

“Yesterday, a parent new to the school expressed concern about the way in which students collected the recyclable materials,” said a statement issued by Jurupa Unified School District, or JUSD, to CBS Los Angeles. “In response, the school temporarily suspended the activity in order to review the current process and consider changes.”

Ann Vessey, Riverside County Office of Education’s Executive Director of Special Education claims such programs are common, albeit implemented in differing ways like using recycling containers or conducting other types of fundraisers.

According to JUSD’s Assistant Superintendent Dave Doubravsky, the program is written into the student’s individualized education program, or IEP, The Press-Enterprise reported Wednesday. He admits that the ninth graders’ parents hadn’t yet met with school administrators for their IEPs. Wells says she would not have approved her son’s participation.

“Digging through trash is not a life skill,” said Brian Schafer, JUSD School Board Member and parent of a former special education student who agrees with the parents. “It’s unhealthy.”

At a heated school board meeting, JUSD School Board Member’s apologized to parents and students.

Rhonelda Lizarraga, a parent of a former special education student who sobbed during the school board meeting while recounting her feelings about sorting through trash, said her daughter only told her about the practice after news surfaced last week.

“When she told me, it made me angry because I couldn’t protect her,” Lizarraga said.