The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 10, 2009

CCHS provides a range of programs for Special Education students

Jessica Murphy, Director of Special Education for Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional School Districts, presented an overview of Special Education services at the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) meeting on March 24. Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) students who are identified as needing Special Education services and are attending the high school “in district” participate in tutorial sessions, study skills classes, specialized math and English classes, the Pathways program and alternative programs. Those students who require support but cannot attend the high school are placed “out of district” and receive services either through the Concord Area Special Education Collaborative (CASE), or through placement in private day or residential schools.

To qualify for Special Education services students must be evaluated and found to have a disability which interferes with making effective progress in school. Through a team process which involves educators, parents, administrators and the student, an Independent Education Plan (IEP) is written which details the type of support and service a student needs.

Murphy, presenting enrollment figures for Special Education students, explained the number of female students receiving services increases from middle school to high school years. “We see a lot more girls once they hit adolescence,” she said. She said much of the increase is due to social and emotional issues. “So that’s why the male and female numbers are closer in high school,” she said.

In-district programs

Unlike middle school, where students take the same core courses, all CCHS students, whether or not they are receiving Special Education services, have a unique class schedule. There are 179 students receiving “in-district” services (see Table 1). Students can choose from two or three levels of courses in some subjects, and often take one or more electives, making it challenging to schedule support for students who have IEPs. Murphy explained that one way students with special needs receive support is through Study Skills/Tutorial classes. Tutorial classes are similar to the “Study Skills” sessions offered in Carlisle School Learning Centers. They can be scheduled anywhere from two to six times a week or more, depending on the need of the student. Typically students meet in small groups, working on particular subjects (math, social studies, science, or English). In addition, all students, whether special needs or not, can schedule tutorials through the Math Resource Center (MARC), and Social Studies/English Resource Center (SSERC).

Pathways, Alternative Programs

Students with “varying cognitive abilities,” said Murphy, may be in the Pathways Program. “Some students [in Pathways] are fully included in the high school,” she said, but “some may be more separate.” It is an umbrella program which currently services about eight students with varying special needs. Special math or English classes are offered through the Pathways program, though students do not have to be in Pathways to take the classes. There is some vocational training as well. “Keep in mind,” she said, “that we are responsible for a student until age 22 or until the student receives a diploma.” Committee member Louis Salemy, noting the number of students with autism, asked if it was a growing disability. “It is growing nation-wide,” replied Murphy. “One out of 50 students,” she added. “We have many more in the district than ever before that have some sort of autism.”

For students who have an emotional impairment, said Murphy, the Alternative Program (Alt Pro) offers classes in a supportive environment. The program is individualized and run by the school counselors, with courses taught by the regular education teachers. In addition to classes, students receive group therapy. There is a parent outreach component to the program.

Murphy described three programs that are available to “regular” and special education students: the Network Program, a ninth-grade transition program; the Challenge Program, which is “a good first step for students who might have been hospitalized for emotional reasons;” and the Compass Program, which is a “school to work program,” which includes a vocational piece.

Out-of-district programs

There are 44 CCHS students who are “out-of-district” students (see Table 2). The majority of students whose educational needs cannot be met through in-district services attend private day schools such as Learning Prep, Landmark, Dearborn Academy, or the Clearway School, said Murphy. A small number of students attend classes through CASE, which is a collaborative with the towns of Acton, Acton-Boxborough Regional, Bedford, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Concord-Carlisle Regional, Harvard, Lincoln, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, Littleton, Maynard, Nashoba Regional, and Sudbury. Transportation is provided, by law, for students in day programs, Murphy said.

Some students require a residential facility, she said, and attend schools such as the Crotched Mountain School and Rehabilitation Center. “We cover the entire cost,” explained Murphy. “What is the typical cost of a residential placement?” asked Salemy. “About $150,000 per year,” replied Murphy. She said students “typically are unable to access educational services in any other setting.” Committee member Jerry Wedge wondered if it was possible to bring a student who is in a residential program back into the district. Murphy said it was not likely, but students have moved from residential programs to day programs.

Tuition costs continue to rise

Murphy said the out-of-district tuition charged by the day and residential schools continues to rise. Salemy wondered if it would be possible to house an alternative high school within CCHS if there were enough space and staff. Murphy noted the programs would be “very staff intensive and would need a lot of space.” She said that “some kids just can’t be in the high school.” She discussed the difficulty of refusing an out-of-district placement. She said the legal fees could cost between $25,000 - $50,000, and if the district loses the case it usually has to pay the legal fees of the family, and also pay for the out-of-district placement. “We go to great lengths to work collaboratively,” she said. Superintendent Diana Rigby pointed out that the state is approving tuition increases, “but on the other hand they are not giving us the funds to support students in-district.” Murphy agreed, but said that teachers at the private special education schools “aren’t getting rich.” “They start out making less money, and they can provide the services we can’t.” ∆

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