Older students with disabilities now school’s responsibility
by Dennis Sharkey
A possible move to the Intermediate School building in Ozawkie for Keystone could solve a problem that officials are having a hard time solving.
Keystone Director of Special Education Rhonda Denning said a change in philosophy on the state level in regards to special education students is causing some extra burdens.
In the past when a special needs student reached the age of 18 and graduated they moved on. However, school districts are now responsible for those individuals until they are 21 years old.
Denning said in the past those individuals went to state institutions that could provide services to those special needs students, but the waiting list for those facilities now have a seven to eight-year waiting list. Denning said most students cannot receive services until they are 25.
“It isn’t a good situation,” Denning said. “These are children that have limited cognitive abilities and they can make some pretty poor choices.”
Assistant Director of Special Education Rob Little said the issue is creating some uneasiness for teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and most importantly students.
Little said there are potentially six to nine students in the Keystone area that fit this category and he expects the numbers to grow. Little said they have situations where a 230-pound 19 or 20-year-old with behavior issues sitting next to a 100-pound 14 or 15 year-old girl.
Little said there are times when these students become angry and violent in some cases.
“The incidents seem high enough that this issue is on a near horizon rather than a far horizon,” Little said.
For now, Denning said staff trained to deal with students with behavior issues is being outsourced to the schools. However, some people like Director Dr. Tim Marshall think the students would be better served in an environment where they are together and with staff trained to deal with the behavior issues.
The John Dewey Learning Academy has the staffing fit but cannot support the students. The JDLA is already strapped for space, but a move to the Ozawkie building could provide the space needed.
The shift in philosophy is also coming with a price tag. Marshall said the program will need to be funded.
“In an ideal world we would see some kind of needs shift and we could reallocate resources,” Marshall said. “If not, we are looking at additional expenses.”
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