New Foster City Elementary School Plans lack space for Special Day School Kids

Foster City (may) be getting a new elementary school to serve the city and the school district’s growing population of students.

But, what about our special needs kids?

Well, there is something. A resource center about a third the size of a standard class room is all that is specified.

Reasonable planning?

That is questionable.

But to understand that, you have to know something about special needs education (at least as I understand it in San Mateo).

Special Needs School Facilities Math

There are over 1000 special needs kids in the San Mateo Foster City school district out of the total district student population of 12,000+ students…. a bit over 8 percent.

This is low compared to California at over 11 percent.

Those students can be divided into 4 major categories:

  • Students who get “pull out” services like speech therapy in a separate space in the school.
  • Students who get both “pull out” and “push in” services either in services in their class room or the resource room.
  • Special day students.
  • And students with needs that cannot be accommodated within district facilities and require special resources.

There are a very small number of students in the final category, but, about one third of the special needs students are in each of the three categories for services within the district.

So, if we are looking at planning for new schools and capacity, it is logical to plan to serve the a student body that reflects the population – including special needs.

The new school is targeted to support 450 to 600 students.

Therefore, for planning purposes, lets assume that 10 percent of the students are special needs kids.

45 to 60 students.

If you divide those special needs kids into their three on-site service categories, that is about 15 to 20 who get each level of service

Approximately…. back of the envelope.

There is space for speech and other pull out therapy services. Probably not a problem.

The resource center is tricky. Students working there are often present with an individual aid, therapist, or teacher individually (effectively doubling the number of people using the space). So, the space SHOULD be designed to handle the peak capacity for concurrent use of the space… which I don’t have any idea how to estimate.

Except, that if you look at individual office space at the facility, it looks like you could put 4 to 6 of those spaces in the resource center which MIGHT imply that the peak concurrent student capacity is 6 kids.

I have no idea if that is enough. I have been told that other schools have grossly overtaxed resource rooms, so I’m pretty confident that the new school isn’t going to be helping with the district’s resource room space problem overall.

And, as to the special day school kids…

No space planned at all.

Special day school kids are use dedicated classrooms with a maximum of 12 students each. So, given the projected population of the school, that would imply 2 special day school classes.

Except that you can’t put kids from all grades in a single room, so it is likely that you would need more than 2 rooms if all of the kids are to be housed on site…

But 2 dedicated rooms for special day school kids is a reasonable working guess as these students are shuttled and shuffled all over the district and not sent to their “home school” like other students. As long as there aren’t space problems anywhere else in the district.

However, 12 students is maximum capacity for these classes. They operate a lot better with smaller sizes (Special ed teachers and aids deserve huge kudos for handling the wide range of challenges they face).

Maybe 3 rooms?

That would probably handle things well with 450 (45 special ed, 15 special day school) students and begin to be tight at 600 (60 special ed, 20 special day school) students.

Now, there is space to grow” at this school. To take it from 450 to 600 students.

There is a cluster of 5 classrooms at the south end of the campus designated for growth.

You could put the kids there.


More trouble


In addition to not having planned for special day school kids at all…

Money problems have shown up before plans are finalized and ground is broken.

Pretty big ones.

1 of those rooms has been promised to the Annex after school care program (a topic for another day).

And 1 to 2 of those rooms are to be leased out.

And the other 2 to 3 rooms… maybe they could house the initial special needs kid day school population.

But then, the school doesn’t have a capacity of 600 students, it is capped at its day one capacity of 450 students.

If you take care of your special needs kids (who aren’t in the plan).

Maybe a maximum of 500 students if you don’t.

The San Mateo Foster City School District presented its plans for the proposed elementary school in Foster City to the school board in a study meeting on 20 December 2017. This article is an expanded and, hopefully, clearer version of my public comments at the meeting.