BOE discusses special services offerings

Presentation focuses on student needs

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  • The special services department answering questions for the board of education following the presentation at Monday night's meeting. Photo by Jennifer Jean Miller

By Jennifer Jean Miller

— Members of the public packed the media center at Sparta High School on Monday for a special presentation from the district’s special services department.

Those who presided over the presentation included Director of Special Services Linda Cooper, Psychologist Dr. Jane Esposito, learning consultant Suzanne Sanders, Dr. Susan Lorenz, of the West Mountain Academy, and social worker Concetta Mangiaracina.

Esposito and Sanders were the main presenters at the event, advising the audience of the procedures included for referring children to the special services teams, and use of the severe discrepancy model, and other methods, to determine what Sparta students are eligible for the program.

Esposito reported that of the 3,500 students in the district, 523 are receiving special education related services.

Of the highest percentage receiving assistance are those who fall into the “Other Health Impaired” category, which is 31 percent of the students.

Other health impairments are classified under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) as those children who may have a range of neurological disorders, such as ADHD.

The next highest category is 30 percent of the group and is comprised of students with a specific learning disability. Students that receive eligible speech-language services fall into the 14 percent range, autistic students at seven percent, preschool children with a disability at six percent, and communication impaired students make up five percent of the group.

Students who are emotionally disturbed or multiply disabled each make up three percent of the group. Auditorily impaired students comprise one percent of the group. And those in the less than one percent category of students assisted include those with mild cognitive impairment, visual impairment and traumatic brain injuries.

Esposito explained that every school building in the district has its own child study team, including a school psychologist, learning disabilities consultant, and school social worker.

Most have a speech/language therapist. There may also be outside specialists as part of each team. Many of the professionals hold doctorate levels in psychology, are licensed social workers, and are nationally certified educational diagnosticians.

“We believe it’s very important we have highly trained professionals when evaluating children for services,” Esposito said.

Parents or staff members often refer students, Sanders explained. From there, students are tested, and then referred to the appropriate child study team.

“There are times when children are not found eligible,” Sanders said.

Some of the eligible assistance students may receive include basic reading, reading comprehension, math problem solving and oral expression.

“When referred, sometimes there is a clear profile,” Esposito said. “There are other cases where the team must explore the psychological processes behind the learning challenge. By the time a student is referred to us, they’ve come to us for a good reason.”

Sanders said a variety of data sources are used to determine eligibility. The district implements the 22-point discrepancy model between intelligence scores and academic achievement scores. Other methods may be applied to determine eligibility.

During the question and answer session, Sanders also said that because a student has been diagnosed with a disability does not mean they will require services. There may be 30 percent of the student body in regular education, which may have had diagnoses from doctors as having conditions such as ADHD.

The representatives from the district indicated that the Sparta Township Schools are above the national average in terms of providing services to their students, with the average at 13 percent, and Sparta at 15 percent.

“We have a tremendous teaching staff,” Esposito said. “We couldn’t do our job without the teachers supporting our staff.”

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