Board challenges use of special-ed staff

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
What qualifies as legitimate use of special education staff to serve regular education students?

That’s a question the Unified School District 410 board tackled Monday evening at its monthly meeting.

Board members discussed the question in response to Marion County Special Education Cooperative board’s decision to bill USD 410 for using special-ed staff to help teach seventh- and eighth-grade reading groups comprised of special-ed and regular students.

MCSEC is responsible for providing special-ed staff for each attendance center in Marion County. Superintendent Gordon Mohn said MCSEC produced a tentative bill of $659 for the second semester.

“It’s not so much an issue of money, but of principle,” said Mohn, who asked his board to respond to the MCSEC board’s decision to adopt the policy to bill the Hillsboro and Peabody districts, which are using the collaborative teaching model.

The Kansas State Department of Education guidelines allow special-ed teachers to teach regular and special students under the guidelines of a collaborative teaching model.

Those guidelines stress that students with identified needs must receive services of the special-ed teacher in a general-education setting, both special- and regular-ed teachers must share responsibility in the instruction, and grades for students on the caseload of the special-ed teacher must be submitted by that teacher.

Mohn said the teaching model helps to blur distinctions between regular and special-ed students and offers higher standards for performance and behavior.

“It’s illegal and unethical to use special-ed teachers and dollars to supplant the responsibility of special education,” Mohn said. “We don’t have any intent in this district to cheat.”

According to Mohn, charging districts that comply with the state’s guidelines for collaborative teaching sends the wrong message.

“I want schools to be able to choose the collaborative teaching model,” he said.

The collaborative approach is supported by special-ed and regular-ed teaching staff at Hillsboro Middle School, principal Evan Yoder said.

Yoder said the decision to combine the students in the reading groups has enhanced learning.

“We saw a tremendous difference in the special-ed kids,” Yoder said.

Yoder said that despite potential negative effects in combining students with different learning styles and levels, “the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.”

He added, “Kids with different abilities learn from each other.”

Throughout the discussion, board president Doug Weinbrenner urged the board to look for a “win-win situation.”

In response to the MCSEC proposal, the board voted unanimously to recommend a compromise policy that would require districts desiring to use the collaborative teaching model to “submit a written proposal to the MCSEC board by July prior to the school year in which the proposal is intended.” If the proposal does not meet the requirements set forth by the state, “the board may approve the proposal with the stipulation that the district compensate MCSEC for staff costs as determined by the board.”

Board member Debbie Geis serves as USD 410 representative on the MCSEC board of directors. She said she thought understanding would be facilitated by sending someone to attend the MCSEC board meeting to explain how the collaborative model is used at Hillsboro Middle School.

The board agreed and voted unanimously that Yoder identify a regular and special-ed teacher to accompany him to the MCSEC board meeting.

The board also discussed possible changes to the 2002-03 calendar that would allow more time for staff development and training, as well as topics and activities that would be addressed at those sessions. No decision was made.

Mohn reviewed projections for enrollment and staff for 2002-03 school year.

“A lot depends on what the Legislature does,” he said.

To meet the budget, Mohn anticipates cuts may be needed.

“We’ve talked to the people who may be reduced (if we have to make budget cuts),” Mohn said.

In response, the board members affirmed the value of small class size and expressed a hesitancy to cut staff.

“But we can’t guarantee we won’t cut staff,” board member Cal Jost said.

In other action the board:

?approved the revised Science Education Curriculum and Standards presented at last month’s meeting;

?approved up to $10,200 to hire consultant Beverly Nichols from the University of Missouri in Kansas City and to pay building improvement team members their daily rate for pay for up to two days of participating in school improvement work after the end of the 2001-02 contract year;

?denied HHS social studies instructor Jim Robb’s request to be absent and receive leave other than personal in order to serve as a member of the Board of Directors for Prairie View Inc.;

n?renewed administrative contracts for Call, Honeck, Yoder and Heinrichs for a two-year period.

The board went into executive session to receive a report about teacher evaluations, to complete the evaluation of the superintendent and to discuss negotiations.

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