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Fargo, ND: Elem school to add "calm space" for kids with "autism/emotional disorders"

Oct 24, 2019, Inforum: Fargo (ND) Moorhead (MN): Proposal would expand Lewis & Clark Elementary to create calm space for special needs students FARGO — At the Nov. 26 meeting of the Fargo School Board, district staff plan to present a proposal to remodel and expand Lewis & Clark Elementary School — a move school officials say would create a space where children with neurological challenges can learn and grow. Children who have conditions like autism or emotional disorders can sometimes be triggered by something in their environment, resulting in unwanted behaviors. The spaces proposed for Lewis & Clark would be designed to keep such triggers to a minimum, said Superintendent Rupak Gandhi. … There is no separate setting for elementary students with more extreme behaviors in the area. Students with disabilities, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and emotional disturbance disorders, are generally educated alongside peers without such disabilities. The school district formed a task force made up of teachers, administrators, legislators, advocates and parents to recommend the best setting for a program assisting students with behavior-related conditions and the group reported in early 2019 that its top choice for a program would be a regional center that wasn't attached to a current building. However, there wasn't a clear consensus and the task force emphasized the importance of trained staff and temporary placement in whatever setting is decided on. … Gandhi said the new spaces would pay close attention to environmental factors such as light and sound and aim to reduce the chances a child would be triggered and display undesired behaviors. He said the district does not have the resources to create such environments in every school, so the proposed work would be a way to centralize services for special needs elementary students in Fargo and possibly other North Dakota communities…. Brenda Ruehl, who works as a disabilities advocate for the North Dakota Protection and Advocacy Project, an independent state agency, said she believes that rather than spend millions of dollars on a building project, the school district's money would be better spent on training and staff to provide services in the classrooms it already has. "You can have the prettiest environment with lots of calming rooms, but if you don't have the appropriate staff, you're not going to change anything," Ruehl said. "You have to have the appropriate and professional experienced, skilled staff to make change and we don't even have that right now in the Fargo Public Schools for our special ed kids," she added. … \


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