Sunnyside parents remain concerned for Ocotillo Learning Center - Tucson News Now

Sunnyside parents remain concerned for Ocotillo Learning Center

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Karelia Hernandez and her son, Sergio. Karelia Hernandez and her son, Sergio.
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Parents and teachers in the Sunnyside School District have been weighing in on the district's dilemma of how to deal with a possible multi-million dollar funding shortfall.  

In previous board meetings, the board has been told to not make cuts at the Ocotillo Learning Center, which handles both special education students as well as those in general education.

A district spokeswoman says that any decision on cuts to the budget or the learning center will be considered March 12.

While Sunnyside Unified School District has already identified about two-thirds of the cuts it needs, it still must save more than another one and a half million dollars for next year.  The district has already cut some teaching positions and increased class sizes.  It is still trying to determine how it can protect programs such as the integration of special education and general education students at the Ocotillo Learning Center.

"Either start crying or start throwing a fit because he felt probably either overwhelmed or upset that we didn't know what he was trying to say," said Karelia Hernandez.

She said that her son, Sergio, used to not speak in complete sentences.  But that turned around once he started at Ocotillo Learning Center in August.

"And now, oh my gosh, it's made such a huge difference because we understand what he's saying, he's talking, he's saying complete sentences, so, I mean, it's a huge improvement," Hernandez said.

Ocotillo integrates special education with general education students.  But parents and teachers fear that if the district cuts funding to the school, special education students would be in their own classes, which could open the district to lawsuits for not making every effort to integrate special education students with others.

"Ocotillo remaining open shows the district's strong commitment to the federal law," U of A College of Education professor Sherry Mulholland told the Sunnyside board on February 12th.

While parents and teachers have sounded off to the Sunnyside governing board, a decision of any sort has been postponed another two weeks, until March 12th.  The goal of the district is to not harm programs, or at least minimize the effects of any reductions. 

"It helped him so much," Hernandez said about Ocotillo's effect on her son.  "I'm not sure that if he wouldn't have gone there, I don't think he would be as advanced as he is right now."

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