A Riverside High School Thinks Dumpster Diving is a Needed Life Skill for Special Education Students

Apparently dumpster diving is an important life skill for special education students, at least according to some officials at Jurupa Unified School District in Riverside County.

Last week news reports surfaced that special education students at Patriot High School were searching through campus trash cans for recyclables that could be turned into cash as part of a “functional skills program.” According to the Press-Enterprise:

School board members … didn’t know the Patriot High School program included an activity that had special education students sort through campus trash bins. They said they learned of the issue when complaints were posted on Facebook and then reported in the news media.

Officials have suspended the recycling activity and are reviewing the overall functional skills program…

[Jurupa Unified School District Superintendent Elliott Duchon] said…that “this is standard curriculum” for the program’s students, who routinely collected recyclables such as cans and bottles.

“Up to last week, there has not been one complaint,” he said.

Ann Vessy, Riverside County Office of Education’s executive director of special education, has said such projects are common, though some schools do it different ways.

The functional skills program is carefully tailored for special education students and is part of their individualized education programs, Duchon said. It teaches general life skills such as how to do a budget, purchase groceries and cook meals.

It sounds more like school officials are preparing students for extreme hoarding or cheapskate show auditions—or at least lives of extreme filth, based on descriptions from students and parents:

… parents blasted district officials for fostering a practice they said humiliated special education students and exposed them to germs.

“It is disgusting,” said Carmen Wells, who aired her complaints to the media after learning her autistic son was digging through trash in the hot sun while wearing heavy gloves and an apron on his first day as a Patriot High freshman.

Arianna Lizarraga, a former special education student, sobbed as she recounted her feelings while digging through trash.

“I’ve been there and it’s not easy,” she said. Lizarraga’s mother, Rhonelda Lizarraga, said her daughter hadn’t told her about her experience until news surfaced about the Patriot High incident last week.

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

School board member Brian Schafer said he could sympathize with the parents’ complaints because he is the parent of a former special education student.

“Digging through trash is not a life skill,” Schafer said. “It’s unhealthy.”

This situation is also completely avoidable. A leading reason why public school officials can be so thoughtless is they oversee a virtual monopoly with a captive clientele.

If these California parents lived in almost any other state, they could immediately transfer their children to public schools outside their resident districts or to public charter schools without huge waiting lists because they’re allowed to expand in response to parent demand, or use any number of publicly and privately financed private school scholarships. If California parents lived in Arizona or Florida they could also have nearly all the state funding students’ current school districts receive for them deposited into education savings accounts (ESAs) instead.

With those funds parents could pay for the current and future educational services that best meet their children’s needs—not those of public school officials who think lessons in rummaging through other people’s trash is all that special needs students deserve.


Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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