Public School Time & David's Story

Sacramento Unified School Programs

Clayton B Wire Elementary School laid the foundation for my thinking that anything was possible if you have courage to risk, a heart of compassion & acquire the brains (knowledge) you need to create effective programing.

The District saw my potential & believed it could now support children with Autism at the middle school & high school level so we worked together & those programs were developed.

I moved from the elementary site to open the High School Program at Luther Burbank High School in South Sacramento.

My classroom was positioned way out in the back of the school in a portable but it didn’t stop me from finding ways of integrating my students. My classroom had a rather mixed student body some with Autism, a couple with cognitive challenges & still others with more social/emotional needs.

I learned the following very, very quickly:

  • Make friends with the Cafeteria staff & identify volunteer activities
  • Make friends with the Home Economics Teacher & identify times during the week to use the kitchen
  • Connect with the counselors & develop a student volunteer program. High School students need volunteer hours
  • Never give up on teaching a student academics. One of my students learned to read at 16
  • When a student says they can’t do something because they have a disability, realize if they have the ability to say that, they have the ability to do what they say they can’t. Expect them to do it & find a way to support the challenges
  • Do not stop trying because an idea failed. Find another way
  • Attend all teacher meetings & develop relationships with regular teachers. Help them understand & believe in your students’ potential, so you can mainstream with success
  • When your students are integrated check on them consistently
  • Reach out & connect to all families
  • It’s okay to allow a student to stand at the window & watch the clouds move by

David’s Story: This was the clincher to knowing it was time to start my own school.I was teaching out in the famous portables, where they housed special day programs. I had just allowed David, a non-verbal teen with Autism to walk on his own to the bathroom (within my sight from my classroom). We had been practicing for several months. I watched him enter, turned to answer a question from another student & realized he hadn’t come out. I remembered that David was always distracted during the toileting process & gave him a few more minutes. But David still did not return.

My instructional assistant took over. I stood outside the bathroom calling David. No response. I went in. David stood by the sink, trying to wipe off his bleeding lip, trembling. I noticed he had a bruise above his eyebrow. A student must have come into the bathroom during those very few minutes David was taking responsibility for himself & punched him in the face.

Someone had intentionally hurt this young boy, who could not identify his assaulter.

I escorted David back to class, applied first aide. David clamed & enjoyed his most liked activity, watching the clouds pass by in the sky. I dialed the 7 numbers of his Mom’s phone. My stomach was churning.

“Hope, that was his mom’s name, “David is okay but there was an incident. I am so sorry. David has a bruise on lip & eyebrow. He was in the bathroom & I think he was assaulted. I am sorry.” “That’s okay, accidents happen”, Hope said

I could not believe her response. It was NOT okay. Accidents like that should NOT happen. Encouraging mainstreaming too fast & encouraging mainstreaming for all should not be the only objective .

There has to be other choices for these children, I thought to myself. There has to be more than a public school or the state hospital.

Thus, the next step along the road of Autism was revealed, I founded The Kaplan Foundation, a private school for children with Autism …. My first attempt to provide a safe, nurturing educational environment for students to learn.

Karen Kaplan
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