Just under state average
By Peter Becker
WALLENPAUPACK - Successes and challenges for Special Education at Wallenpaupack were reviewed by the School Board April 8th. What the School District is doing for their special needs population must be submitted in a report to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, as part of the school's overall comprehensive plan.
Gwyn Devendorf, Special Education Director, reported there were 608 students in the Special Education program, as of Dec. 1, 2012. The number has generally gone down since 2007- at the same time overall enrollment has shrunk- with 737 students in 2007. In 2011, however, there were only 580 students in the program.
Their evaluation of student needs last year identified more for Special Education; a number also came from more families moving into the area.
She noted that Special Education students make up about 16% of the student body, which she said is low for Wallenpaupack. The percentage had been in the 20's. Statewide the average is 17%. Wallenpaupack is under the average in Pennsylvania for the first time.
She and Assistant Director Donna O'Neill reviewed the program.
To qualify for Special Education, the student must have at least one of 13 recognized disabilities and have a need for specially designed instruction. Disabilities cover a wide spectrum, including autism, deafness, blindness, speech issues, intellectual and orthopedic impairment and emotional disturbance.
Among their Special Education students, they have 212 with a specific learning disability; 142 with speech or language impairment; 127 with other health impairment; 55 with autism; 40 with intellectual disabilities; 28 with emotional disturbance; nine who have impaired hearing; eight with multiple disabilities; three with visual impairment and two with orthopedic impairment.
The numbers don't add up to 608, Devendorf explained, since some students have more than one issue.
There are also 71 students in the Gifted program, which are not part of the 608 total.
Special Education programming is held in each of the District buildings, among all grade levels. Numerous faculty and staff assist. There are 25 Learning Support teachers; five Emotional Support teachers; three Autism Support teachers; one designated for Life Skills Support; two teachers for Multiple Disabilities Support; six Speech Therapists; two Physical Therapists; one Vision Therapist; one Hearing Therapist; two Social Workers; two Psychologists; one Transition Coordinator; 27 Para-educators and 11 Personal Care Assistants.
Among the strengths of their program Devendorf enumerated is a consortium with other local school districts.
Devendorf said that the consortium in place with Wallenpaupack Area, Wayne Highlands and Western Wayne School Districts, has been of enormous benefit.
Each District has its own programming that can help with the needs of students in other districts. One district may only have one or two students who could benefit from a certain class of instruction, and can join with like students from the other districts to make a larger class. The consortium has been in place about 10 years.
Page 2 of 2 - Some students need to be placed in other school districts in the area, or receive help at hospitals or organizations, from Stroudsburg to Wilkes-Barre to Scranton.
Other strengths include their assistance teams, having specialized personnel in place, including Mental Health, Juvenile probation and Drug & Alcohol offices in the high school, and strong support from administration.
Elementary Student Assistance Teams are in place in each building with full-time Educational Interventionists.
Wallenpaupack also benefits from strong reading and math programs; consistent special education staff dedicated to their students' progress; a high degree of integration of all students in regular educational programs; high priority in staff development; a successful Medical Assistance Access program and having on board a full-time Transition Coordinator.
As Transition Coordinator, Melissa Reginski works with Special Education students in preparing for life after high school, education and work experience.
Challenges remain. Among them are due process hearings when attorneys not necessarily having Special Education experience represent clients. Devendorf states that the District's goal is to address parental concerns short of reaching the judicial process.
She said they have very few parents who are not in agreement with the District's program, but a concern arises when some attorneys in Lackawanna County post large ads attracting clients to them to resolve special needs issues, rather than trying to get it resolved with the School District.
Reduction in programs due to budget cutbacks is also a challenge all school districts are facing. Agencies may have to offering less services or take fewer clients.
Devendorf said that the Department of Education looks for the extent the School District includes Special Education students with the regular educational program. This is a challenge, she said, to be able to put the students in the "Least Restrictive Environment" while still meeting the needs of the students.