NEW ULM - About 18 percent of children, age birth through grade 12, in District 88 currently receive special education services, River Bend Special Education District Erin Toninato told the District 88 Board of Education during its work session Thursday night.
Toninato familiarized the board with a wealth of statistics about, and trends relating to, special education.
River Bend is a cooperative of 10 districts and charter schools that pool their resources to achieve efficiencies in special education.
The proportion of students receiving special education services in District 88 is consistent with statewide numbers and marks a significant increase from the late 1980s when it was about 13 percent, according to Toninato.
Last year, 376 children, ages infant through grade 12, received services managed through River Bend.
Only a small number of students actually receive these services on the River Bend campus. Instead, the services are administered in the children's home schools, or, in the case of babies and young children, in their homes. Only 30-45 special education students are actually served on the River Bend campus. Another about 100 students, who do not receive special education, attend the River Bend Area Learning Center.
A significant part of the growth in special education is attributable to the increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders; another area of growth includes attention deficit disorders, said Toninato. But numbers have generally increased throughout the field.
While the reasons behind this growth have not been clearly and conclusively identified, specialists point to changing family dynamics - children coming to school with more "baggage," from fragmented environments - and also to better, more precise identification.
Special education is one of the most-highly regulated fields, with the highest requirements for perfection in meeting identification criteria, reporting standards, etc., pointed out Toninato.
The high standard for "paperwork perfection" places an increasing burden on case workers who each manage 15 to 18 cases, she added.
Among many other aspects, the board discussed the philosophy behind hiring one-on-one paraprofessionals to help individual children and also difficulties in recruiting and retaining paras.
The goal remains for the paraprofessionals to, in a sense, "work themselves out of a job" by helping the children to become independent.
The one-on-one approach, while primarily dictated by the needs of the children, also comes with some financial advantages for districts, compared to the approach of hiring classroom paras.
During the second part of the work session, the board heard a report from newly-hired Technology Director Eric Simmons about his first 30 days on the jobs and his plans for the next 30 days, the next 60 days and the next year.
Simmons shared information about the installation of wireless services throughout school buildings, to be completed next week.
He shared ideas about the utilization of Google aps in instruction and helping teachers learn how to use this and other tech tools.
He also discussed some possibilities for improving the district website and other technology tools and access (such as potential g-mail accounts for staff and students).