The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 18, 2007


Intervention and support services help students at the Carlisle School

Students at the Carlisle Schools have a variety of learning styles and needs, as all children do. When any issues interfere with the student's educational progress, the school has services to assist the child, the teacher and the parents. "We are driven by student needs," explained Director of Student Services Karen Slack, in an interview. "We meet those needs in the district when we can."

Karen Slack, Director of Student Support Services at the Carlisle School. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)
According to the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE), the federal "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" (IDEA), states that all students with disabilities must receive a free, appropriate public education. The neighborhood school is deemed preferable for the child with special needs as the "least restrictive setting," under the federal No Child Left Behind law. It is also a legal requirement that programs and facilities must be physically accessible to children with disabilities.

In Carlisle, the average number of students who receive special education services has remained constant for the last five years at 10%. In surrounding towns the averages are higher: Lincoln, 11%; Acton, 13%; Chelmsford 12%; Concord, 16%.

One way to cut down special education costs, Slack explained, is to be proactive, starting support as soon as a need is identified, instead of waiting until a need becomes so great that an appropriate education cannot be given in the local school.

Evaluations identify needs

Whenever possible and appropriate, Slack explained, the school's goal is to accommodate students with special needs within the district. In order to have a child receive special education services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) a student must have a diagnostic evaluation to determine areas of need. The process of developing an IEP can take a number of months.

The evaluation consists of a series of tests and activities which will document areas of need. A team, which includes parents, teachers, evaluators and Slack or a principal, meets to discuss the findings of the evaluation, and create an IEP based on the student's needs. The plan outlines goals, methods of delivering support and methods to measure progress. The team must meet at least yearly to update the IEP and the student must undergo a new evaluation a minimum of every three years. In some cases, parents may have their child tested outside of the school either at their own expense or at the school's.

Though some students enter school with identified special needs, others have learning issues identified when they are older. Sometimes needs appear in first or second grade, or concerns may arise in third or fourth grade. Slack explained, "As the demands of the curriculum rise, that is often a time when the teachers discover issues."

Out-of-district placements

Some students' needs are so great that they must be educated in an out-of-district placement, Slack explained. Appropriate placements may be found at either another public or a private school. It is the responsibility of the student's home district to pay for the out-of-district placement.

Carlisle has had two or three out-of-district placements each year, and costs can run from $50,000 to $100,000 or more per student. While the state will eventually reimburse about two-thirds of the out-of-district tuition costs, the school district must fund the rest.

Integrated preschool

Children who are identified early as having special needs may be eligible at age three to attend the Carlisle School's "integrated preschool," which serves a mix of children with and without special needs. The classroom, on the first floor of the Grant Building, has a maximum of 20 students, of which half must have special needs. All children attend three mornings a week, and the special needs students attend an additional two mornings per week. Special needs students are supported by a federal grant, while others are charged $450 a month. Services such as speech and language, occupational therapy, and physical therapy are available in or out of class.

In-class support

The Carlisle School's inclusionary approach means students receiving special education services are included in the regular classroom for the maximum time allowed by their needs. All Carlisle students benefit from the inclusion model, Slack said. Each grade level is supported by a Special Educator, who, with specialists such as speech and language therapists, works alongside the teacher in the classroom at various times. "People here are really great about trying different teaching strategies," she said. Often the aides and specialists also help the other students in the classroom, effectively lowering the overall student-teacher ratio.

Pull-out sessions

Students who need individual or small group lessons may have a "pull-out session" in the learning center, the library or other locations. These sessions may be focused on an academic need, such as science, or may be therapeutic, such as speech and language. In general, pull-out sessions are kept to a minimum so as to not interfere with the student's academic progress within the classroom. The learning center, in the Wilkins Building, is a quiet work space used by middle school students.

Foreign language

Though most middle-school students take a foreign language, the Carlisle School web site explains: "At the middle school level, some special needs students with a language-based learning disability take study skills as an alternative for foreign language study." The study skills sessions address both academic or therapeutic needs.

Last November Principal Paul Graseck, reporting on the work of the Middle School Task Force, said the group was investigating the foreign language program to see how to make it available for students with disabilities. When asked recently for an update on opportunities for students with learning disabilities to study a foreign language, Graseck replied, "Yes, the reality is they do take foreign language unless their disability leads to an IEP that specifically indicates a foreign language is not in the best interest of the child. Many kids on IEPs take foreign languages."

Less formal solutions

Students who have some developmental or educational issues can sometimes be helped without requiring a formal special education plan. According to the school's web site (, for example, students with simple speech problems can be addressed via "articulation therapy." The Reading Specialist can assist students with reading issues. Other interventions that do not necessarily require special education services include modifications to the curriculum, specific teaching strategies based on the need of the child and changing the teaching environment (for example, seating the child closer to the teacher).

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito