April 15, 2020, TribLive.com, Greensburg and Tarentum, PA: Highlands considering operating autism classroom at high school https://triblive.com/local/valley-news-dispatch/highlands-considering-operating-autism-classroom-at-high-school/
Highlands School District is considering operating its own autism classroom at its high school next school year in a move that would save the district $231,000. The district signed a contract for autism services with the nonprofit Merakey Innovative Care and Education Solutions six years ago. Merakey spokeswoman Trish Pisauro said its departure from Highlands is a “planned exit.” “There was a particular student that was entering middle school (when the original contract was signed). They weren’t sure how to handle his specific needs,” Pisauro said. “That particular individual student is graduating this year so that level of service is no longer required. That is why we … feel the contract is no longer necessary.” Pisauro said a few more students came into the classroom over the years, and Merakey worked with the district’s staff to train them to care for the other students. Fifty-nine of Highlands’ 549 special education students, or 11%, have autism spectrum disorder, according to Anne Rose, the district’s co-director of student services. The district operates autistic support classrooms at its elementary and middle schools. Rose said the district will apply in the 2020-21 school year for a state-initiated verbal behavioral program endorsed by the state Department of Education. It would start in the elementary school and be slowly implemented across all schools. The Merakey program at the high school “does not fit into this equation,” Rose said in a presentation to the school board on Monday. In the 2019-20 school year, Merakey served five students at the high school at a cost of about $186,000, according to Rose. The projected cost for a potential 11 students in the 2020-21 school year is expected to be about $351,000…. At the meeting, the board also is expected to vote to approve a contract with KeySolution Staffing for additional school psychology services in the 2020-21 school year. According to the proposed contract, KeySolution would evaluate students being considered for special education services at a cost of $500 per evaluation.