Mission and Guiding Values


To actively lead in research, teaching and service that promotes and advocates for the inclusion, belonging and equity of disabled individuals* within schools, communities, and society as a whole within our work and with future educators/ service providers. 



Department of Special Education Faculty & Staff Zoom Call

Guiding Values 

The guiding principles behind our decision-making:

  • All individuals have the right to be acknowledged and valued as full members of the community that honor the diverse, intersecting identities that they hold including but not limited to, race, class, culture, gender, disability and language.
  • We have a responsibility to consistently confront individual bias and advocate strongly for equity in acknowledgement of the historical and current inequities that exist in the systems including child care/ education/ service provision systems.
  • There is a recognition that individuals’ experiences and ways in which they identify with disability are unique. In turn, a disabled individual’s support and services should be individualized, culturally-sustaining, collaborative, and interdisciplinary.
  • The foundation of all instruction, support, and services should begin from a place of strength and assets, acknowledging an individual’s context/ ecosystem (e.g., their families, communities, schools, employment, etc.) and building from their values, priorities, and goals. 
  • Educators and service providers require knowledge and skills to promote access and participation for individuals with disabilities within inclusive learning environments and provide high-quality, meaningful instruction that supports all individuals learning and development. 
  • Educators and service providers require specialized expertise in facilitating the development of individualized learning goals for disabled individuals based on a wide range of support needs and disabilities across a lifespan

*Both identity-first and person-first language are used interchangeably with the awareness that language use regarding identity should be chosen by an individual, or in the case of young children, the family’s preference. 



2018 Joint Doctoral 50th anniversary celebration


The Department of Special Education was established in 1948 as the first such academic unit in the state of California. Dr. Leo Cain, the first department chair, played a lead role developing federal policy for Special Education as a member of the President's Committee. With Dr. Cain, five faculty members led the development of a variety of program areas: Leon Lassers, Jerry Rothstein, Priscilla Pittinger, Mable Whitehead, and Florence Henderson.

Through the decades, the Department provided leadership in the field with prominent faculty members in the areas of Inclusive Education, Visual Impairments, Early Childhood Special Education, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Transition To Work, Sign Language Assessment, Deafness, and Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

In 1967, San Francisco State College began the Joint Doctoral Program (Ph.D) in Special Education with the University of California, Berkeley. The Joint PhD Program was the first such program approved in the state of California by the Joint Graduate Board and is now in its fifth decade. The program provides the opportunity for faculty members to mentor doctoral students in research, program model development, and train future university academicians.

Now in its seventh decade, the Department of Special Education continues our commitment to professional preparation, research, and scholarship. Professional training is informed and enhanced by faculty who are leading researchers in their areas of specialization with a long history of successful funding through internal and external grants and contracts.

GCOE Statement of Purpose

The GCOE develops transformative and visionary educators, clinicians, and leaders for social justice, to effect change for good across the Bay Area and beyond, and to create an engaged, and productive democracy. Together we do the work necessary to understand and welcome all; to prepare equity-focused, caring, and highly skilled professionals; to identify and dismantle racist, ableist, and oppressive systems; and to build an equitable and accessible present and future.
Read full statement here.