By Anne Dachel
Looking back over January it’s clear that the stories I’ve been collecting over the past three full years are unstoppable. There is no plateau to be reached where cost and demand level out.
Everywhere in the English-speaking world, as far as I can see, special education is taking center stage in school budgets talks. Reports on special ed enrollment are invariably about growth and the need for more teachers to accommodate more special ed students. And we’re constantly told that kids with needs go way beyond just cognitive delays. Today special education involves students with behavioral issues/emotional problems. Stories often mention that the disorders these kids have are more complex. And at the same time all this is going on, our children are increasingly plagued with chronic health problems never before seen at today’s rates.
So how will we pay for all of this? Will we have to take from the general ed money to pay for special ed?
Actually I am seeing this being talked about in news reports. There’s no way they can avoid the issue. The money has to come for somewhere since it’s a federal law that special needs kids have a right to a free and appropriate education, and the feds haven’t increased funding. This means state and local governments have to come up with the cash.
So how much longer will this go on? Are we approaching a point where someone will sound an alarm and demand we look into the state of children’s physical, mental, emotional health?
I’d like to think so, but I have watched autism grow from a novel, unheard of condition over the past twenty years to a normal and acceptable part of childhood. The same thing seems to be happening with all kids with special ed needs.
Let me start with a really strange story from the Pocohantas (WV) Times entitled, School system increasing medical staff for student safety. Staff reporter Suzanne Stewart made it clear that students are coming to school with really serious health issues/learning problems all the while she’s completely disinterested in why it’s happening.
Stewart reported, “… the medical issues of students today have grown to the point that a medical professional is needed full-time.”
To meet the needs of the students, superintendent of schools Terrence Beam said the Pocahontas County Board of Education is seeking two LPNs to assist school nurse Jenny Friel.
Schools become clinics
‘Our kids are coming to us with all kinds of emotional and physical issues that – up to this point – we have been unable to provide the assistance that was necessary….
‘The actual physical condition of the kids is different than it was twenty years ago. We have more diabetic students. We have more kids with major allergies. We have kids with seizure disorders.’…
Schools now are in charge providing medical care as well as classroom learning, and while we’re told there are school-based clinics in every school, this is not enough.
“In addition to physical medical concerns, there is also an increase in social and emotional issues, which Beam hopes to also address soon.”
Beam: ‘The next step we’re going to take is to employ a social worker for our schools. …We’re going to expand our counseling services.’
At the end, the superintendent conceded that he has no choice. We have to adjust to the students of the 21st century.
‘Sometimes we focus a lot on the academics and the athletics in our school systems, but we really need to look at the physical and the mental condition of our kids, because it is difficult.’
So if the superintendent isn’t looking for answers and yet another reporter has no interest in asking for an explanation for what’s happening, nothing will improve. Expect the downward spiral to continue. All the things happening in Pocahontas County schools should be seen as an unprecedented crisis. More kids with diabetes, seizures, and ‘major allergies’ should be scaring everyone.
Pocahontas County is not alone in this nightmare. Here are a few examples to show just how widespread this is.
Jan 25, Charlotte (NC) Observer:
$5.6M in county funding will be used to hire 25 new social workers for the district. In addition,
“The district is looking to hire 30 additional mental-health professionals, including counselors and psychologists….
“Staffing deficits at CMS call for recruiting 500 more social workers, as well as 150 counselors and 115 psychologists, according to an analysis provided to the Mecklenburg County commissioners ahead of their annual board retreat next week. …
“In recent years, the number of students screened for suicide risk at CMS has soared.”
Jan 24, WAAY-TV Huntsville, AL:
Alabama Department of Education is asking for $7.7M in additional funding to address student mental health.
‘I think across our state and certainly across our district, we're seeing an increase of mental health issues at an earlier age for students.’
“The money would also provide more full-time therapists to schools. …”
Jan 24, NorthCentralPA,com:
Danville, Pennsylvania school district is shortening the school day and reducing class requirements to help improve students mental health.
Jan 24, Charlottesville (VA) Daily Progress:
A bill in the state legislature to authorize all school nurses to stock Albuterol inhalers for students with asthma.
Jan 23, (Canada) Leghbridge News:
The government of Alberta, as of Jan 1st, “has required all K-12 schools in the province to have at least one epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) on-site at all times” in case of a severe allergic reaction.
Jan 22, (UK) Barking and Dagenham Post:
“Barking and Dagenham has experienced rapidly increasing numbers of youngsters needing support for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), councillors heard.
“A forecast total of 113 primary and 353 secondary SEND pupils is anticipated over the next four years, the majority with autism….”
Jan 22, Trumbull (CT) Times:
“[Superintendent] Iassogna had told the board the schools were running a deficit projected at up to $2 million and that he had implemented a spending freeze and a hold on overtime and substitute teacher costs….
“The biggest factor, though, is special education and transportation for students in special education programs, he said.
“‘In October 2019, we identified $1.4 million in special education and transportation costs,’ O’Keefe said. ‘That number has only grown.’”
Jan 21, AZFamily.com:
“With more students having more severe disabilities, there is a growing strain on general classroom spending in Arizona's public schools.
“Now, Arizona lawmakers are considering a bill that would help public schools manage the rising cost of special education services….
“Dr. Kym Marshall, Director of Student Services for Chandler Unified School District says the special education population has exploded and so have the needs.
“‘It’s not just about reading writing and math, it’s more about mental health, social emotional,’ said Marshall….
“‘What we do know is that the population keeps growing without any additional funding.’
“Between the 2007 to 20017 school years, the number of Arizona students diagnosed with autism more than doubled…
“‘There are just too many children who fall into these classifications that haven’t been true in the past,’ said Sen. Allen. ‘I don’t know all the reasons and I guess it doesn’t matter for this argument. We have the issue now let’s try to help these kids.’” …
Jan 19, Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette:
“Cedar Rapids elementary school students were held in seclusion rooms or physically restrained 237 times in the first month of this school year — more than 10 times a day and more than four times as much as in the first month of the 2015-2016 school year….
“School seclusion has been a lightning rod in recent years as more parents learn about 6-by-6 foot rooms with padded walls used to contain overwrought students in schools across Iowa….
“…most elementary students were put into seclusion for violent behavior that included kicking, biting, hitting and throwing items that could harm others….
“Teacher and staff injuries that involved students rose 88 percent, from 226 to 425, in the past five years in the Des Moines Public Schools,…”
Jan 18, (UK) Sunderland Echo:
“With concern growing that an increasing use of the booths for disruptive students could have serious effects on young people's mental health, we asked if their use should be stopped.”
Jan 17, South Portland (ME) Press Herald:
“As schools deal with an increasing number of children with disabilities like autism, demand for disabilities awareness and sensitivity programs has increased, meaning Portland-based organization The Cromwell Center currently has a waiting list of 25 schools….
“She estimates that between 10 and 12 percent of the school’s students have some type of disability and said that while she has not noticed more autism diagnoses in recent years, she said the number of students who are in special education or require an individualized education plan has increased over the last few years.”
Jan 16, Wilmington (NC) Daily News:
“Collected data also showed students with disabilities were secluded more frequently than those without disabilities. During the 2013-2014 school year, students with disabilities were subjected to seclusion rates ‘that far exceeded those of other students,’ according to an OCR report published in 2016….”
Jan 15, (UK) North Somerset Times:
“A special school has received overwhelming support for its expansion ambitions, during a five-week consultation.
“Baytree School, in Weston, is desperately in need of more space to cope with the growing demand for children with special educational needs.”
Jan 14, (UK) Independent:
“Families of autistic children are facing waits of up to three years for a formal diagnosis, a charity has warned.
“Around half (46 per cent) of families waited 18 months or longer for a formal diagnosis for their autistic child, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 parents by Ambitious about Autism.
“Once a diagnosis is made, nearly three in four (70 per cent) parents said they were still not offered adequate support for their child – such as therapies that help with speech and language.”
Jan 11, Texarkana (AR) Gazette:
“Over the past decade, greater numbers of Arkansas children have been diagnosed with disabilities that require them to receive education.
“Consequently, Arkansas public schools are spending greater amounts of money on special education.
“Last year, there were almost 64,000 students with a diagnosed disability in Arkansas public schools. That is 13.4% of the state's total student enrollment….
“The number of students diagnosed with autism has gone up 55% since 2013. The increase is attributable to an increased awareness among educators and others of the characteristics of autism.
“The growth in children diagnosed with dyslexia has followed a similar trend. In 2014, for example, 957 students received therapy for dyslexia. In 2014, only 89 school districts and one charter school reported results from screening for dyslexia.”
Jan 9, (UK) Guardian:
“A special needs school has welcomed plans to increase its capacity in the face of growing demand.
“New Rush Hall school, in Fencepiece Road, Fairlop, will be expanded from 64 places to 80 after Redbridge Council gave plans the green light on Tuesday, January 7.
“The school – rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2016 – is a specialist school for children and young people experiencing significant social, emotional, behavioural and/or mental health difficulties.
“Executive headteacher, Sam Walters, welcomed the news, saying the demand for places had greatly risen in recent years.
“He said: ‘There has been a huge increase in the number of young people needing EHC plans, particularly for social and mental health needs, has naturally meant that there are not enough appropriate school place to meet the populaces needs.’ …
“Since 2014, the number of Redbridge resident pupils with an EHC plan has risen approximately 35 per cent.
“Council officials estimate the borough’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) pupil population will grow by 16.5 per cent (153 school places) for primary education and 33.7 per cent (248 places) for secondary by 2025.”
Jan 8, 2020, NJ Spotlight:
“Tuition for out-of-district placement of some students often runs well into six figures
“The high cost of special education in New Jersey is getting renewed attention, as Senate President Steve Sweeney presses the state to do more to help districts pay for students with severe disabilities….
“Long an advocate for special education as a parent of a child with special needs, Sweeney said he wants to ease the tension that arises with the high costs of serving these students, and said the state can and should do more….
“But the rising costs of special education — and specifically those of specialized outside schools where tuition costs can reach six figures — has been a contentious issue for years, if not decades….”
Jan 8, Butte Montana Standard:
“‘So this whole thing here is the sensory hallway, and we added it as a way for kids to calm down themselves,’ said Norah Barney, Lincoln Primary School principal. She said the school’s occupational therapist, Addie Hall, created the pathway just in time for the 2019-2020 school year….
“While it helps students with motor skills and provides sensory input, the sensory hallway is part of a larger movement to get Lincoln students to learn how to ‘self-regulate.’
“‘What’s self-regulate? So think of it like: When you get upset, are you able to calm yourself without assistance?’ explained Barney.”
Jan 7, (UK) KLFM, Norfolk:
“The plan is part of Norfolk County Council’s £120 million [$160M US] transformation of special educational needs.
“The programme seeks to create 500 extra school places by building up to four new specialist schools and expanding existing SRBs or building new ones.”
Jan 5, 2020, (UK) Exeter Fe News:
“With one in eight children suffering from some form of mental health issue during their childhood years, it is important that we as parents and teachers are able to understand what this means for our children and how we can support them….”