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Beware of schools shorting special education

To the editor:

As the parent of a special-needs child, I am saddened to write about how Minnesota’s public education system treats and cares for our most vulnerable children.

This is a call to action for our elected officials, community leaders and school boards. I also call to action our elected officials to give increased power to the Minnesota Department of Education to investigate, monitor and hold accountable districts who are below the state average on Child Find, the federal law requiring public schools to identify, evaluate and offer education at the level a special-needs child needs to learn.

This is the forefront of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, many districts in our state have figured out how to circumvent the law’s requirements and interpret it in a way that benefits their bottom line.

Not all districts are neglectful in interpreting the law, but a number are. Determine your district’s Child Find ratio by dividing its student enrollment by special education students. If this ratio is below the state average of 16.4%, or below their peer group average, it is time to speak up as parents.

Another percentage you should be looking at is your district’s free and reduced lunch percentage, as there is a correlation to children’s special education needs.

The districts that circumvent the Child Find ratio are doing so by stating a child isn’t disabled (education vs medical), doesn’t need services any more than their same age/grade peers, or claim to meet learning standards children. This is a travesty and one I have been researching for the past year, as my child has been denied services all through its elementary school years.

This is what happens when communities aren’t actively involved in their school boards. School districts must be run by the people whose children are affected the most.

Contact your legislators and school boards and let them know we want our children’s education to be top priority. I’m not saying to provide more funding, but they should be funding special education closer to the required minimum.

Get to know your district’s cross-subsidy: the amount not funded of special education cost and what a district pulls out of its General Fund to pay more than state and federal funding. The state average of these cross subsidies is $833 per student. If your district is lower than the state average, that is definitely something to question. Do not allow districts to balance their budgets on the backs of special needs children’s education.

Shannon Duffy Peterson

Springfield

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