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Chelmsford, MA: More autism; new SPED school saves on out-of-district placements

Dec 26, 2018, Lowell (MA) Sun: Special-services school a gift for families, a cost savings for district CHELMSFORD -- School can be tough for Ethan, a non-verbal 8-year-old Lowell boy with autism. The commute to an out-of-district program with the services he needed -- an hour both ways -- wasn't making it any easier, his father Shon Teicheira said. That's why when the Day School, run by Lowell Public Schools, moved from Methuen to Chelmsford at the beginning of this school year, Teicheira was intrigued. After speaking with the district, Teicheira enrolled Ethan. A few weeks into the school year, the difference in his son was "night and day," he said…. "That's a huge, huge savings to the school department," said School Committee member Gerry Nutter, while discussing the school's enrollment during a meeting in September. " … Lowell Public Schools set aside $11 million of it's $181.6 million budget for students attending out-of-district services and schools in the budget the School Committee approved last spring. On average, Lowell spent about $14,500 per student in 2017, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Out-of-district placements for students can far exceed this average figure. Comparatively, just two students approved at a Sept. 19 School Committee meeting totaled over $90,000 for the year. Though circuit-breaker funds from the state offset a portion of this cost -- about $4.7 million was initially expected for last school year -- school officials acknowledge out-of-district placements represent a significant and unpredictable portion of the budget. As students move in and out of district these costs can change throughout the year. Students newly assigned an Individual Education Program requiring specialized services, can also add to the uncertainty. As of late October, 47 students were enrolled at the Dr. Janice Adie Day School -- a specialized full-day program for students with autism from preschool to 12th grade. McCrystal said all these students would be placed in out-of-district programs if the school did not exist. The Dr. Janice Adie Day School, which opened in fall of last year, moved to its Chelmsford location on 60 Carlisle St. over the summer. In its first month in the new location, it added about a dozen new students from out-of-district, according to McCrystal. The new location, though $240,000 more expensive, was expected to bring in $1 million in revenue, former Assistant Superintendent of Finance Gary Frisch told the School Committee last April…. Diagnoses of autism locally and nationwide have increased in recent years. Right now, McCrystal said 16 percent of students who receive special education in the district have been diagnosed with autism. In addition to the Day School, the district has 35 classrooms for students with similar diagnoses. Efforts to open a specific school for students with autism started about five years ago, she said. "I think Lowell should really be applauded for really planning and forward thinking," she said. … Children with sensory issues can be very disruptive in a traditional classroom environment, but the Dr. Janice Adie Day School is equipped to meet these needs, she said. "We have two sensory motor rooms that have swings," which the students can use to calm themselves down, she said. … After almost fifteen years in the district, Adie became the director in 1988. About four years later, the district started the first classroom with children with autism in the district. In the 2001-02 school year, Adie and her staff wrote a grant to fund autism services. She retired from the district in 2005. …

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