Grand Jury releases report on Winters school district

Winters Joint Unified School District building. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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The 2021-22 Yolo County Grand Jury has issued a report of their investigation of the Winters Joint Unified School District.

The Grand Jury report titled, “Help! I Need Somebody — Getting An Education,” found that the school district struggles with literacy, and uncovered challenges parents and guardians have identifying support services for special education students.

“This investigation was prompted by citizen allegations that the district is not providing the legally-required services to struggling students,” the report stated.

The Grand Jury investigated two issues: the success of the third through fifth grade English Language Arts program at Shirley Rominger Intermediate School in creating a literate student body, and the availability of published materials for parents/guardians describing the steps necessary to obtain legally-mandated services for a disabled child and classroom accommodations or special education services

In conducting their probe, the grand jury revealed, “several district administrators were interviewed, as well as independent educational experts” and that they reviewed available online district manuals and handbooks.

As to the first issue, the Grand Jury investigated the success of the district’s English Language Arts Program, recommending “the district maintain a close focus on the English language arts test scores to determine whether its curriculum is producing literate students.”

Of the Shirley Rominger literacy testing data, the Grand Jury reported, “The most recently available data from the 2018-19 literacy testing at Shirley Rominger Intermediate … indicate the district struggles with literacy with their third through fifth grade students.”

The Grand Jury also found, “The district has been unable to clarify, in publicly available data, the percentage of students who are underperforming in literacy skills.”

Data provided in the 2018-19 School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) reported no more than 37.76 percent of the students tested below the reading standard, yet the grand jury found in the SPSA’s analysis that 40 percent of those tested met the standard.

“The data reporting and data analysis is incongruent and confusing,” the Grand Jury observed.

The second issue the grand jury evaluated was how well the school district has informed parents on how to obtain education support services for struggling students.

Beyond the citizen complaint, the Grand Jury learned of and referenced a 2019 California Dept. of Education investigation report, “which found the district was out of compliance with certain aspects of its obligation to provide special education services.”

Winters JUSD has approximately 1,550 students ranging from preschool through grade 12, and has a legal duty to provide support services for disabled students, the report said. Eligible disabilities encompass a wide range of conditions, so the extent of the disability is to determine to which services a child is entitled.

Lacking a step-by-step guide, the Grand Jury found there are roadblocks for parents to advocate for their child and receive support services to which they are legally entitled.

To this issue, the Grand Jury recommended the school district create and publish a transparent process for parents and Winters JUSD staff to follow and provide it to families. Additionally, it recommended publicly posting a document at each school outlining how students are assessed for disabilities and special education services or how classroom accommodations can be obtained.

The Grand Jury made recommendations and has requested, as required by law, responses to the recommendations from Superintendent Diana Jiménez as well as from the Winters JUSD Board of Trustees.

The recommendations are:

1. Create a parent handbook for special education

2. Provide and post a graphic in each school clearly outlining steps to evaluate child disabilities, and obtain education services or classroom accommodations

3. Complete testing for the 2021-22 school year for grades three through five and report the literacy scores to the Grand Juries through the 2024-25 school year

4. Review the English Language Arts student performance data for mathematically accurate performance data.

The Express reached out by email to Jimenez, Assistant Superintendent Phoebe Girimonte, Director of Special Education Jenny Pinedo and Rominger Principal Monica Moreno for comment, but received none.

A copy of the Yolo County Grand Jury report on Winters JUSD can be found on the County website’s Grand Jury page.

Grand Jury
For more information about the Yolo County Grand Jury or to request a Grand Jury investigation visit https://tinyurl.com/zwp2pjd5.

Details about Grand Jury services and information about how to find the Grand Jury’s final reports that details its investigations is also available on the Yolo County website on the “Living” category, under “Grand Jury.”

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