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RACINE — More Racine Unified kindergartners needing special education services will go to their neighborhood schools in the next school year, but they’ll also likely spend less classroom time with special education teachers.

School and disability rights officials agree it’s a good thing to educate students at their attendance area schools. But Peggy Foreman, executive director of the Arc of Racine County, a disability rights group, worries less student interaction with trained special education teachers will have negative consequences for the kids.

“It’s just unfortunate that we’re taking the expert out of the classroom,” Foreman said.

Currently, most kindergartners needing special education services get enrolled in “special needs kindergarten” at one of 13 Unified elementary schools. Special needs kindergarten classes have a mix of regular education and special education students; they are taught by a regular education teacher and a special education teacher who share teaching duties and are both present most of the time, said Jamie Syvrud, Unified’s special education executive director.

Under that model, a student might attend one school for 4-year-old kindergarten, another for special needs kindergarten and still another for first grade. All that moving around isn’t good, Syvrud said.

Research shows that “every year there’s a transition for a child, there’s regression in learning,” she said.

To avoid that, in the coming 2014-15 school year, Unified will drop the term “special needs kindergarten” and will provide special education kindergarten services at all of the district’s about 20 elementary schools. That means most special education kindergartners will be able to go to their regular attendance area schools, Syvrud said.

Their classes will have a regular education teacher present all the time and a special education teacher available as needed, based on minutes specified in each special education kindergartner’s individualized education program plan, or IEP. The regular education and special education teacher will likely continue to share some teaching duties, especially in reading and math, Syvrud said, explaining such a delivery model more closely mirrors what Unified does in first through fifth grades.

The change, plus other caseload changes, will mean Unified needs five fewer special education teachers at the elementary level for the coming school year, Syvrud said.

“(Special education teachers) will not be split between buildings. However, they may service students in more than one grade level within the same building,” Syvrud said.

The Arc’s Foreman sees this as a problem.

“(They) are moving to where we’re doing more (with) the regular education teacher and the only time the special education teacher supports is for the minutes that are written in their IEP,” she said. “That’s not covering their entire day and as we know ... they need (help) all day long for someone to understand their disability and help them manage themselves.”

Asked to respond to that, Syvrud wrote in an email: “We are committed to providing the special education services determined by the IEP team so that every student meets their individual IEP goals. The IEP team — which includes the child’s parent/guardian, teachers and special education staff as well as district administrators — determines exactly how much time a student needs direct service from a special education teacher and we will continue to provide the services within the IEP.”

Kindergartners with the most severe disabilities, who are considered “high need,” will get services at just two schools: Jerstad-Agerholm Elementary School, 3535 LaSalle St., and Schulte Elementary School, 8515 Westminster Drive, Syvrud said.

About 100 kindergartners require special education services each school year, Syvrud said. She could not say how many of those are “high need” because the number is different every year, she said.


HELP FOR PARENTS

Have questions about how Racine Unified special education changes impact your child and his or her individualized education program, or IEP? Call the special education teacher assigned to your child, or call his or her school principal.

If you have additional concerns or need other help, contact the Arc of Racine County, a local disability rights group, by calling 262-634-6303.

SOURCES: Rosalie Daca, Racine Unified Chief Academic Officer; and Peggy Foreman, Arc of Racine County executive director

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