Students with disabilities take spotlight at South Sanpete School District board meeting
By Lloyd Call
Dec. 21, 2017
MANTI—Special education took the spotlight at the recent board meeting of the South Sanpete School District, including a Boy Scout reporting on his eagle project that benefits students with disabilities.
Trevor Steck, a Boy Scout in Troop 528 (Ephraim 5th Ward), reported to the board last Wednesday, Dec. 13, on his eagle project.
Steck took 25 soft, fuzzy animals that talk and sing and wired them with large buttons that could be pressed by students with disabilities for recreational and therapy needs in district schools.
“Some of these students are disabled to the point where we just want any kind of interaction with them. Pushing a button to get an animal to sing a little song is actually a very neat motivation for them to respond and interact with,” said Aaron Peterson, district special education coordinator.
Peterson added, “As Steck entered the rooms to present the toys, some of the students actually rushed to him to touch them.”
The district expressed appreciation for Steck’s project and the effort it took.
A good portion of the board meeting was spent discussing the special education program as the board reviewed changes to the 70-page policy.
Peterson said regulations change constantly in special education. A possible change might require districts to hire a new psychologist to administer and interpret testing needed for special education eligibility, which is going to be hard for small districts like South Sanpete to afford.
The updated special education laws require districts to have personnel able to properly oversee the administration and interpretation of testing for school teams to make proper eligibility decisions.
However, the state is facing a severe shortage in psychologists. And this is making it hard for rural school districts to compete for psychologists with larger school districts, who are also facing severe shortages.
Many prospective school psychologists seek work outside of Utah after serving their program practicum experiences in our schools, he said. South Sanpete is continuing to make efforts to meet those expectations in the face of a statewide challenge.
“For the 13 eligibility areas, a team must demonstrate in their decision that a student has a disability that adversely impacts their education and requires specialized instruction in order to qualify the student for special education resources,” Peterson said.
He continued, “The district must ensure that the special education processes are being followed in order to come to that determination for each student.”
The processes the law requires the district to follow ensure that “the primary reason for the student’s performance isn’t the primary result of another factor like lack of attendance or not receiving adequate instruction,” he said.
After parents request an evaluation, he said, the district has a “45 school-day timeline” to perform and document the evaluation process.
He added, “The policies make sure all those procedures are followed correctly.”
District Superintendent Kent Larsen noted, “Of course, any time any student is struggling to learn, we intervene. Power hours, targeted teaching and many other interventions are used to find out how to help the students learn. The district is very concerned with making sure students get the help they need.”
The board expressed appreciation for the way the district’s special education teachers and administrators were trying to support students with learning disabilities.
The district also reviewed the final report of graduation rates for the year, which showed Gunnison Valley High School with a 95-percent rate (89 students), Manti High School with a 91-percent graduation rate (161 students) and the South Sanpete Education Support Center with a graduation rate between 40 and 49 percent (10-19 students).
Historically speaking, Gunnison High’s graduation rate has climbed slightly in recent years while Manti High’s graduation rate has declined a little.
Utah’s overall graduation rate is 86 percent, compared to the national rate of 81 percent.
Brandon Olsen approached the district to get permission to donate a soccer board in his family’s name for the new soccer fields. The board thanked him and will set up a meeting for Olsen to coordinate the project with the district’s facilities director.