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Twin Falls, ID: "More children are coming in with severe needs or behavioral issues"

Mar 25, 2018, Twin Falls (ID) Times—News: 'No one has the solution': Schools grapple with special education growth http://magicvalley.com/news/local/education/no-one-has-the-solution-schools-grapple-with-special-education/article_cbf20a73-f5b4-53d9-a15b-806fe9302340.html South-central Idaho faces a multitude of challenges with educating students who have special needs. The region has seen Idaho’s largest increase in the number of students who require special education services, and more children are coming in with severe needs or behavioral issues. With a shortage of federal funding, school districts are dipping more into their general fund to pay for services they’re required by law to provide. Plus, a severe teacher shortage makes it especially tough to find teachers and other support professionals, such as occupational and speech therapists. There’s no shortage of theories for why local schools are seeing more special education students – and particularly, those with severe needs and behavioral issues. But educators don’t have a firm answer for the cause of those trends. Here in south-central Idaho, 10.4 percent of students receive special education services, according to an “Idaho’s Educator Landscape” report released in January by Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. That’s right in the middle of the pack statewide, but this region has seen the largest increase — 3.3 percentage points – in the past five years. In Twin Falls, as the school district continues to grow — with 9,400 students in total — the number of special education students is increasing, too. The number of special education students in the district is approaching 1,000, about 10 percent of the student body. That’s up from 753 students about six years ago. Jerome had 394 special education students — about 9.8 percent of the student body — in 2017. That’s up nearly 90 students compared with 2013, when they made up 8 percent of the total population. Those increases may seem vast, but several factors are contributing to the uptick. “We were also underidentifying a few kids, at least statistically,” said Kindel Mason, special services director for the Jerome School District. “For us, it was probably that we caught up with the state average.” With more students, there’s a greater need for specialized services like occupational, physical and speech therapy, and interpretive services too. Some of those providers are on the payroll as school district employees, while some are contracted. … Several south-central Idaho schools — including in Twin Falls, Jerome and Cassia County — are seeing a growing number of special education students, and more of those students have severe needs or behavioral issues. Though they make up a small fraction of the total number of students who need special education services, the number is increasing. That’s a trend being felt across Idaho and nationwide. There are many theories about why that’s the case, said Charlie Silva, special education director for the Idaho State Department of Education. One possible explanation is improved medical services for children, including premature babies, which allows the children to live longer and reach school age. “As a society, as we have become more sophisticated with technology and medical procedures, we have kids who are now coming to us who could have significant medical needs that maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago, the survival rate wasn’t there.” … At Harrison Elementary School in Twin Falls, special education teacher Amy Kenyon has seen her caseload double in the past 17 years. She used to have student numbers hovering in the mid-20s. Now, she has more than 50 students. …