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Grand Forks, ND: MORE SPED students; MORE with 'an emotional disturbance'

Dec 15, 2019, Grand Forks (ND) Herald: Special education enrollment grew nearly 15% in Grand Forks since 2011-12 How is Grand Forks Public Schools working to serve special-needs students? In the past two years, the district has hired 16 new staff members, including four social workers, three “behavioral facilitators,” a mental health coordinator, an addiction counselor and two special education nurses. Why are more Grand Forks Public Schools students enrolled in special education? And how is the district adjusting to the change? In October of this year, 1,367 of Grand Forks’ approximately 7,400 students were in special education, up from 1,285 in December of the year before. The district’s special education enrollment grew by approximately 15% from 2011-12 to 2018-19, outpacing overall enrollment growth, which was approximately 7% in that span. “When I started teaching special ed, it was more, maybe we had a certain number of students with just a learning disability and maybe some speech language impairment,” said Tricia Lee, the school district’s special education director. “And now we’re having students coming through who maybe have an emotional disturbance and a learning disability. It’s just more complex and there’s a higher incidence of some of those disabilities than there have been in the past.” It’s a nationwide trend that doesn’t necessarily have a clear – or single – reason behind it, according to interviews with Grand Forks and North Dakota special education leaders. Most who spoke to the Herald point to improved diagnostic tools that, at least in theory, could mean more students who otherwise would have been put into general education are pointed toward special ed. “You’re getting kids that we may not have caught, we’ll say, even 10 years ago that we’re catching now,” Kirsten Dvorak, the executive director of The Arc of North Dakota, the statewide chapter of a national organization that advocates for special education children and families. The number of Grand Forks Public Schools students diagnosed with autism has risen from 72 to 94 since 2009, for instance. But Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Terry Brenner said it’s hard to know if more diagnoses means kids nowadays are being diagnosed with autism when they otherwise wouldn’t have been a few decades earlier, or if there’s an honest-to-goodness rise in the number of kids with autism…. A 2018 University of Minnesota study found that the rate of autism among 8-year-olds in that state was about 1 in 42, about 40% higher than the 1 in 59 nationwide figure recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. … That rise could also be partly due to greater rates of depression and anxiety among students, some of whom qualify for special education services. Some students are able to cope via in-school and out-of-school therapy, Brenner said; others are too anxious to enter a school building, for instance. “This is a phenomenon that is sweeping the country,” he said. “And nobody has found the silver bullet.” Partially funded Regardless of its cause, the rise is an expensive one for the school district. … like.”… But educated guesses about where special education students come from can only get so far, at least for now, and calls for greater funding come from government agencies budget cycle after budget cycle. Ultimately, school districts are obligated to serve special education students, regardless of the reason or the price tag. So, what’s the district in Grand Forks doing differently, if anything, to provide for the growing number of them? How are educators and advocates here adapting? Grand Forks Public Schools has hired 16 new staff in the past two years, including four social workers, three “behavioral facilitators,” a mental health coordinator, an addiction counselor, and two special education nurses. It’s also hired three long-term substitute teachers to work with middle school-aged special education students. “Depression, anxiety, autism, those are the fastest rising categories that we’re seeing in our school district, so we’re just responding to that,” Brenner said. “If we could get ahead of it – if we can get ahead of it – then we’re going to be the litmus test and we will have the silver bullet for the rest of the country.”… “We’re pretty maxed out with our budget with staffing,” Brenner said….


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