Special education cut affects students

Medina Jusufovic, Staff Writer

For Heidi Luett, communicating with her son is not easy. Her son Hudson has Down syndrome, and he is not a verbal communicator. Instead, he communicates with signs.

“Hudson knows about 200 signs and he is learning to talk and will get a speaking device as a third form of communication to be used with signs and vocalization,” Luett said.

Associates who work with him have to learn his signs to communicate with him. It’s not so easy for Hudson, either. This recent change in the special education program has made it harder for him to communicate with the associates. 

Because of some changes within the special education program, there was a large turnover of teachers at Beaver Creek, where Hudson goes to school, and there were many new associates and teachers that Hudson had to adapt to.

Wendy Vanderport’s room was one of the main places where things really changed after the budget cut.

“We looked at the number of children in programs and moved some teachers out of special education because of smaller classes,” McCool said.

Vanderport worked as a special education teacher at Beaver Creek Elementary and after the cut was made, she was moved to the high school.

“Last spring we combined the two elementary S & P (Standard and Poor’s) programs because of numbers,” McCool said. “Wendy was a teacher in one of those elementary programs. The high school S & P teacher was offered a third grade position in the district so Wendy was moved to the high school position.”

Johnston is known for having one of the best special education programs in the state.

“It was all reputation and word of mouth. What makes it great is full inclusion which means having great one on one associates,” mother Megan Christofferson said. “These cuts jeopardize that.”

Last year, the school had a deficit of $3,126,858 and happened to overspend. This year, it is trying not to overspend and had to make some changes within the program.

“Beaver Creek is really trying not to impact the kids, but it’s only a matter of time before it does,” Christofferson said.

Christofferson’s son Carsten also goes to Beaver Creek and has Down syndrome. Carsten did not qualify for summer school, and that was difficult for him because it was harder for him to keep up with his peers.

The main criteria to get into summer school is that a student regresses in performance during a long break.

“He has to regress, and take a certain period of time to get back to his baseline,” Christofferson said. “They do not take into consideration the gap that exists between him and his peers.”

Students can be qualified based on exceptions, but this is hard to get approved because of the tight budget.

“The federal government has not financially followed through on supporting IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act),” Christofferson said. “Congress needs to live up to their end of the commitment.”

IDEA was created to make sure that every child with a disability gets a free public education just like other children.

Although some parents make it clear that their child is being affected by this change, others disagree. Special education director Vicki McCool and Executive Director of Business Services Jan Miller-Hook say there is no budget cut.

“We’re following the IEP program (Individualized Education Program) and rearranging teachers based on the needs of the students,” McCool said. “It is a procedure and the services will not really change.”

The IEP program is a program where teachers, parents, staff and related personal services try to improve a student’s education with a disability.

When it comes to what has changed in the program this year, teachers have a few more kids on their roster. “We still are legally bound to meet individual needs listed on their IEP and we will continue to do this,” McCool said.

The re-assigning of special education staff was done last year because the number of special education students continues to drop.

“Seven special education teachers were reassigned to other positions within the district,” McCool said. “One special education teacher was laid off and has first recall rights if a special education position would become available.”

This is done every year with every program and grade level.

“To help manage the budget we need to continue making sure our specialized transportation is being done efficiently, use data to support the need for additional associate and teacher support and use resources within the district before hiring additional people,” McCool said.