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Chippewa Falls, WI: 18% of students have special needs; more teachers needed

July 15, 2023, La Crosse (WI) Tribune: Need for special education services rises in Chippewa Falls public schools as district looks to hire

The Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District needs to hire four more special education professionals to address rising demand for services, according to director of Special Education and Pupil Services Christine McMasters.

The expected cost to hire the new educators is between $400,000 and $420,000, McMasters said. Funding would come from a combination of federal grants for special education and federal COVID-19 relief support, which the district has for another year.

The federal special education dollars are available to the schools in the district annually. “Those are not at jeopardy,” McMasters said.

But when COVID relief funding ends this year, she said the district will have to look to its budget and staffing again to see how best to manage the costs.

“At the end of this year, we may have to see if there are other areas to reduce. We might have to do that and reprioritize,” she said.

The number of students requesting special education services has gone up in the past decade, McMasters said, leaving current special educators to manage an increasing load. In that time, the percentage of students requesting special education services rose from about 13% to 18% of the student population.
“We’re seeing a steady increase, again in 2023, of special education referrals. I would say it’s still mostly at the same rate of increase since I started in 2014, though it did dip slightly during COVID when students were online. But this trend is just this slow increase over the years. And so we’re at a point where we just needed to hire some more staff in order to meet the needs of all the kids,” McMasters said.
In 2015, McMasters said the district had 704 special education students. Now, it serves more than 920 special education students.

The district employs roughly 50 special education teachers across nine schools, McMasters said.

While all students in the district are considered general education students, some students need different types of instruction.

“Those extra services allow them to be a part of their classroom and to get the curriculum and the same education that their peers get,” she said. “For some students, it just takes more opportunity, it takes more staff support, it takes accommodations and modifications of their curriculum. Sometimes it takes adaptive equipment.”

Special education students receive a continuum of services provided by the district.

Each student using those services has an individual education program to address their specific needs, McMasters said.

“We determine, based on their needs, what services they’re going to need in order to be successful and to be able to access their curriculum,” she said. “So some students, like students that have only a speech disability, might just see a speech therapist 30 minutes a week, whereas other students might have multiple disabilities. So they’re seeing multiple specialists, plus a special education teacher.”

Some students need full-time attention while in school, she said…..


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