HUDSON–Fewer students need special education, but the ones who do have more severe problems, Kim Lybolt, director of Student Services for the Hudson City School District (HCSD), told the Board of Education at its meeting January 8.
In addition, Ms. Lybolt said that more of the “students entering kindergarten, four- and five-year-olds, have had psychiatric hospitalization.” She said concentration of incoming students needing special services is the highest the district has ever had. Even general education “has seen an increase in the number of students who need behavioral intervention. Over all, “there’s an increase in children with trauma and mental health” issues, she told the board.
Statewide, “In all types of school districts, the number one concern is mental health issues,” added schools Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier. “It used to be low ELA and math scores,” she said, referring to state standardized tests.
“Older kids end up in psychiatric hospitals, we get bills for their education while in the hospital, and we have to prepare for their return to district schools,” said Ms. Lybolt.
The law requires public school districts to “provide a free and appropriate education… for all students… until they earn a high school diploma” or “until the end of the school year in which they turn 21,” whichever comes first, according to a 2010 document from the state Education Department. As part of this education, some students require supplemental services, either as special education or during general education, for both classes and extracurricular activities. Supplemental services are provided in self-contained classrooms, after-school lessons or aides in regular classrooms. “We have the most comprehensive continuum of classes in Columbia County,” said Ms. Lybolt.
Board members and Ms. Lybolt briefly discussed what they should look for in hiring and training staff to provide special services. More teachers have dual certification in both teaching their subject/age group and another educational/human service.
Each special education student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which has as its goal a regular high school diploma or a customized “IEP diploma.” The ultimate goal for all general education students is a regular high school diploma.
In the 2016-17 school year 324 (18%) of the district’s 1,803 students were in special education, Ms. Lybolt reported. That was down 4% from the 2010-11 school year.
To be in special education, a child must fit the criteria for a specified disability. For the plurality of special education students, this has been a learning disability. “Learning disability” made up over a third of special education students in the 2016-17 school year. This is a decrease from the 2010-11year, when they made up almost half of the special education students. One reason could be that intervention services have allowed more students to stay in general education. Another reason is that students who would have been classified “learning disabled” then might be classified differently now.
Other changes from 2010-11 to 2016-17 include:
• The percent of students classified as “autistic” rose from 4% to 12%. The number of these students rose from 17 to 40, even as the total number of special education students dropped
• The percent with “speech or language impairment” increased from 7 to 14. “My theory is that with so much technology” and electronic communication, kids hear less conversation at home,” said Ms. Lybolt
• “Emotionally disabled” decreased from 17% to 6%. Ms. Lybolt said that that some children who earlier would have been classified in this way now have a different classification. The emotional disability classification does not include “social maladjustment.”
Although 86% of IEP students receive their education in the district, some have “significant needs for which we don’t have appropriate programs.” For them, placement can be a challenge. A plurality go to BOCES programs, but their number is dropping, as BOCES has been rejecting students with “significant needs” not compatible with any of its programs. Several go to private schools, but these can expel these students for behavior issues.
Ms. Lybolt said she tries to look for places where the students do not have to travel more than an hour and a half. “If we can’t place students in a day program, we have to try a residential program. There aren’t a lot of families who want their young children in residential programs. But if parents don’t accept any program that accepts their child, they have to home school.”
“But some parents just can’t home school,” said Board President Carrie Otty.
Some students go from program to program in the search for one that adequately suits their needs, said Ms. Lybolt.