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Montana: "Like most states, number of students with disabilities in MT is increasing"

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

Aug 12, 2019, Missoula (MT) Current: Montana’s most critical teacher shortage is in special education Cianan had a history of violent outbursts in his elementary and middle school years in Oregon. Struggling with autism, anxiety, and hyperactivity (ADHD), he had lashed out at a student or teacher at least six times before he entered high school…. Nonetheless, high school went well for Cianan until his senior year. His doctors had him on Prozac, Guanfacine for his ADHD, and the anti-psychotic Risperdal. He prospered in the school’s Behavioral Learning Center and especially liked the teacher. There were no violent episodes. But before his senior year, the Behavioral Learning Center and his teacher were transferred. It wasn’t until October that he was assigned a caseworker. Helen Brown’s caseload was so heavy that it wasn’t until December that she finally sat down with Cianan and his family. They agreed Cianan would meet with her every morning before his school day started. January 11, 2018, started with one of those meetings. Ms. Brown’s queries about Cianan’s homework escalated into an argument. Cianan tried to self-regulate as he’d been taught, backing away to isolate himself and calm down. But Ms. Brown didn’t know what he’d been taught. She didn’t know about his history. She didn’t know that his doctor had taken him off Risperdal over Christmas break. If all this information was in the file, she hadn’t read it. She saw a young man knocking furniture around, retreating, arguing. So she stood in the doorway and ordered him to the principal’s office. Cianan panicked, charged her, and punched her in the neck with a force that slammed her against the wall and tore her carotid artery. Ms. Brown’s injuries could be permanent. So could Cianan’s. Pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault and felony attempted assault, he went to jail…. Like most states, the number of students with disabilities in Montana is increasing – 10 percent in the past five years. The block grant from the state for special education does not recognize expensive differences between disabilities or reflect the true cost of effective special education programs. And although special education expenditures tripled between 1990 and 2014, the state’s share of the burden shifted from 81.66 percent to 32.69 percent in that timeframe. To compensate, the local share quintupled – from 7.09 percent to 41.15 percent. … Over its 44-year existence, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has made huge gains in closing the inch-wide cracks through which children with disabilities too often fall. In the process, it’s opened educators’ eyes to the fact that, just as all autistic children differ, just as disabilities manifest themselves in countless ways, so children without disabilities prosper with individualized approaches. IDEA was a good idea.

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