Opportunity School, Class, and Program Guidelines
Opportunity Education provides a supportive environment with specialized curriculum, instruction, guidance and counseling; psychological services; and tutorial assistance to help students overcome barriers to learning. Opportunity Education schools, classes, and programs are designed to support students who are irregular in attendance, need to unlearn and replace other negative behaviors, or are unsuccessful academically.
Opportunity Education should not be viewed as a holding place for resistant learners but as an intervention to ensure student success. It provides comprehensive academic programs that facilitate positive self-esteem, confidence, resilience and personal growth with the goal of helping students return to traditional classes and programs.
Districts or county offices of education may operate Opportunity Education for students in any of grades one through twelve. However, the Pupil Retention Block Grant, established by Assembly Bill 825, Chapter 871, Statutes of 2004, repealed the authority for school districts to establish new Opportunity Education.Opportunity Education is most effective when it meets guidelines related to class size, curriculum, classroom learning strategies, counseling and guidance, and transition strategies related to placement, assessment, and follow-up. The following program definitions and guidelines summarize effective practices and identify related regulatory statutes.
These are students enrolled in grades one through twelve who may be assigned to the Opportunity environment for all or part of the school day. The intent is always to provide as much instruction as possible within the traditional class environment, with the balance of the day in opportunity instruction when this direct additional support is needed.
For identification and referral purposes, students may already exhibit attendance or behavior problems or they may be at risk of exhibiting behavior problems, such as irregular attendance, and inappropriate conduct while attending school. Often, negative behaviors represent responses to significant barriers the students are facing and underlying positive goals that could be expressed and met more appropriately. The intent of the identification and referral process is to provide the type of assistance that will help students resolve their problems so that they may maintain themselves in regular classes or reestablish themselves for return to regular classes or regular schools as soon as practicable.
Opportunity Assignment Procedures
The governing board, the district superintendent, or a person designated in writing by the governing board may assign identified students to an Opportunity Program schedule or Opportunity Class schedule. Assignment is to be conducted with a view to the improvement of the student, and to the student's restoration as soon as practicable to the regular school or regular class which he or she would, if not so assigned, be required to attend. The school principal or a School Attendance Review Board may make the initial referral for assignment to Opportunity Education.
Notice to Parent/Guardian
No student should be required to attend an opportunity school, class or program for adjustment purposes until both the student and student's parent or guardian have been notified in writing of the intended assignment. The notice to the parent/guardian, insofar as is practicable, should be in the parent/guardian's primary language and request the parent/guardian to respond within a time period adopted within the Local Education Agency’s policies and procedures. Absent a response from the parent/guardian, the person responsible for assigning the student should make a reasonable effort to contact the parent/guardian by telephone to communicate directly the information contained in the written notice.
Individualized Learning Plan
Assignment to Opportunity Education should be made in accordance with an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) developed for this student. The ILP should include and specify all of the following:
- The relevant learning academic, social and emotional strengths of the student.
- The relevant learning academic, social and emotional needs of the student.
- The plan for meeting each of these needs, including measurable goals and objectives for success and the support services that will be provided to the student by the school or district.
Students with Disabilities
Assignment of a student with a disability or identified need for accommodation shall be made in accordance with the student’s Individualized Education Plan for any child who is an individual with exceptional needs, as that term is defined in California Education Code (EC) Section 56026. If the student is a qualified handicapped person, as that term is promulgated by the United States Department of Education pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Sec. 794), the placement shall be made as part of the student’s Rehabilitation Plan.
Opportunity Class Assignment
An Opportunity class assignment includes a daily schedule for an Opportunity student that provides at least 180 minutes of daily instructional time in the Opportunity environment. It is not the intent of opportunity education to necessarily limit students with identified greater academic, social and developmental needs to only 180 minutes of instructional time, either in opportunity education or for the overall day. Students can be in the opportunity class for more than 180 minutes of instructional time. Students can, and should as appropriate, also be assigned to the regular classes where the additional full support provided by opportunity education is not needed for the student to be successful. Because this schedule replaces (supplants) regular class or school attendance for the entire school day as far as credit for meeting minimum instructional day requirements, attendance of such students is recorded and reported in the Principal Apportionment Attendance software, P-1, P-2, and Annual reports as Opportunity Class average daily attendance (ADA) (EC Section 46180).
Opportunity Program Assignment
In contrast to an Opportunity class assignment to an Opportunity program consists of at least one class period, and no more than 179 minutes in the Opportunity environment, with the balance of at least the minimum day for the student's grade level in the regular school or class. Attendance of students on a concurrent schedule is credited to, and reported as, regular school or class ADA (EC Section 46180).
Although there are no legal requirements for class sizes in Opportunity Education, classes are kept relatively small to effectively provide the individualization that best serves high-risk students. Classes in effective programs throughout the state range from 12 to 15 students, with some classes as large as 18 if there is instructional support from an aide or a team teacher.
Curriculum and Classroom Learning Strategies
Students in Opportunity Education receive instruction in the core academic subjects. The curriculum content is the same as that offered in the regular program but it is delivered to students through a variety of instructional strategies. Some strategies allow students to develop academic skills through an open-entry/open-exit approach that allows them to work on individual assignments at their own rate.
Other strategies center on instruction in larger group settings, collaborative or paired assignments for small group problem solving, frequent class meetings providing student-centered or directed communication experiences, and creative self-expression in individual or group settings.
Counseling and Guidance Component - An Asset-based Approach
Many students in Opportunity Education have been identified by the school community as emotionally, psychologically, or socially at-risk of not completing their education through high school. Opportunity Education provides these students with an environment that includes learning support in the form of counseling, psychological services, and tutorial assistance. These services can help students address problems such as habitual absence, behavioral challenges, and other barriers to learning. They help students to unlearn negative behaviors while learning positive ones. They also help students become more resilient in the face of challenges.
However, students identified as at-risk of not completing their education, do not come to us as just a collection of wrongs needing to be fixed. Each one arrives with many things right about them. Each of our students brings substantial building blocks with them. These building blocks, or strengths or assets, represent the student’s academic, social, and emotional development. Often, some of these assets are not as extensive or sufficiently developed as we would like. Sometimes, some assets we would like to see are missing. And sometimes, educators have not identified, or focused on using the student’s assets. This is particularly evident in regard to learning modalities. A student who is a strong natural visual or kinesthetic learner might not thrive in a class where lesson presentation is primarily auditory. A student with strong artistic modalities might learn best if lessons were presented in the language of pattern and rhythm. Part of the goal of Opportunity Education is to identify all of these strengths and provide this information to other educators so to better support the student outside of the Opportunity Education environment.
Often, negative behaviors represent responses to significant barriers the students are facing, and underlying positive goals that could be expressed and met more appropriately. There are many very different reasons why a student may be absent or behave inappropriately. It is important to ask a student who has been chronically absent such questions as, “What are you absent from? Where are you and what are you doing while you are absent? They should be supported to consider and safely offer their answers, which may reveal home issues (caring for a sibling or parent, or abuse), transportation of health needs, school climate issues such as bullying, a lack of cultural understanding, or teaching methods focused on learning modalities other than the student’s strengths. Restorative behavioral intervention practices may uncover that absenteeism and other behaviors may represent any of these issues, as well as mental health challenges, or a need for help to identify alternative, safe behaviors. Restorative practices can also help students identify their value to the learning community as well as how their own behavior is impacting the success of others. Students who are absent rarely are told they were missed because their questions and comments in class would have contributed to everyone’s learning.
Research findings and reports show clearly that early adolescence is a critical period for students. For many students, the middle grades represent the last chance to develop a sense of academic purpose and personal commitment to educational goals. Students who are not successful in the middle grades often eventually drop out of school and may never have another opportunity to develop their full potential. Students who are habitually absent, present behavioral challenges, or at-risk of developing these behaviors in the middle grades, are often deficient in basic skills and may become isolated from other students and disengaged from school. They are dropping away even if they have not yet dropped out.
Even if students have been prepared for the transition from elementary school to the middle grades and high school, the social and academic shift from a self-contained classroom to a departmentalized middle or high school environment can feel very threatening. Some students may feel overwhelmed by the change in structure and instructional pace and begin to exhibit high-risk behaviors that are characteristic of candidates for Opportunity Education. These students may benefit from the self-contained classrooms, smaller class size, specialized instruction, and counseling provided through Opportunity Education as they adjust to the middle grades environment.
Transition Strategies: Placement, Assessment, and Follow-up
Placement in an Opportunity program or class is generally determined by a committee of school personnel made up of teachers familiar with the student's progress, Opportunity Education staff, counseling and psychological staff, and the student's parent(s) or guardian(s). Opportunity program staff maintain communication with the student's parent(s) or guardian(s) to enhance the relationship between home and school. No pupil may be required to attend an Opportunity program or class until both the pupil and the pupil's parents (or guardians) have been notified in writing of the intended assignment.
While enrolled in Opportunity Education, students should receive frequent assessments and progress reports of their work and school adjustment. These assessments and reports help guide teachers in selecting appropriate curriculum and inform parents of the effectiveness of the Opportunity Education intervention. Each student's overall progress should be reviewed not less than two times each school year to determine whether the student would benefit by returning to regular school or classes.
There should always be collaboration and coordination between educators for students who are partially served in the Opportunity Education environment during the day, with the balance in traditional classrooms. Any information about the student’s learning strengths should be shared by all.
A successful Opportunity Education program is one that results in improved self- image and resiliency, acquisition of better skills for scholastic success, and increased ability to assume responsibility for their own learning and behavior in the regular school program. Educators teaching in Opportunity settings are challenged to develop sensitivity to the entire spectrum of students' unique needs and potential, as well as unsupportive and poorly matched educational practices, and lack of supports, that may have contributed to causing the problem situation.
Returning to Their Original Educational Program
- Students are eligible to return to their original educational program when they have met the goals and objectives of their ILP.
- The Coordinator of Pupil Services should meet with the parent or guardian of the student and the student no later than the end of the semester to review measurable progress towards meeting the goals and objectives of the ILP. The parent/guardian may designate a representative such as a counselor, social worker or other community member to attend the meeting.
A student who continues to exhibit attendance or behavior problems such as irregular attendance and inappropriate conduct while assigned to Opportunity Education may be referred to a school attendance review board (EC Section 48320).
As the student exits from Opportunity Education, an exit plan should be in place to continue monitoring and support of the student. It should also be clear to the student and educators that the Opportunity Education staff who have gotten to know the student will remain available as ongoing resources.
Guidelines for Opportunity Education
- Copies of established governing board policies
- Administrative and/or procedure regulations governing the referral, recommendation, and assignment of pupils to and from the Opportunity environment
- Due process measures
- Notification process
- Designation of person(s) responsible for assignments
- Pupil review progress reports
- Process for returning pupils back to their regular class or schools
- Records of pupils returned to regular school or class
- Program description
- Specialized curriculum
- Climate provided
- Class size and number of classes offered
- Instructional services
- Instructional day and guidance services
- Materials and equipment used over and above those provided through regular apportionment to the school district
- A budget describing the cost of special supplemental services provided as compared with services provided by the regular apportionment
- Register of pupil attendance records
- Attendance procedures
- Expenses incurred for Opportunity services provided to pupils, parents, and school staff
These guidelines are designed to serve as a model. They are not prescriptive and compliance is not mandatory. (EC Section 33308.5)