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Parents concerned about changes to special ed program in District 91


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IDAHO FALLS — Changes in the District 91 Early Childhood Special Education program were recently announced, and while the district’s looking forward to it, not every parent is excited.

The program currently serves disabled 3 to 5-year-olds, but parents with kids in the program received a letter dated Feb. 11, informing them The Early Childhood Special Education Team will soon be “inviting (nondisabled) peers from our neighborhood areas” to join special needs students for classes several days a week.

This change comes as a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires a less restrictive learning environment for disabled students.

“All students with disabilities, 3 to 21 years of age, are to be educated with age-appropriate peers who are nondisabled,” the law states. “This is known as the least restrictive environment.”

The state department is urging district administrators to incorporate this model into their program. The peer models will go into effect in August.

Right now, students 3 to 4 years of age attend class four times a week, but that will be reduced to two times a week with this change. For students who turn 5 years old prior to Sept. 2021, they’ll spend three days a week at school, rather than five days.

“I think inclusion is an awesome thing. I just don’t support the loss of classroom time,” one parent who wishes to remain anonymous said.

The letter sent to parents from the Idaho Falls School District 91 Early Childhood Special Education Team. | Courtesy anonymous parent

Amelia Barnish, the mom of a three-year-old daughter with an autism disorder wanted an explanation as to why there’d be less classroom time.

“They don’t acknowledge, mention or explain that they’re cutting the (classroom) time (in the letter),” Barnish said.

Parents argue the new schedule is a “step back” and not the “foundation of a good routine,” but District 91 director of student services Shannon Taylor argues the opposite.

Though it will reduce classroom time, she says it will actually be beneficial.

“When we talk about the age-appropriate, ages 3 to 5, of making gains, they make gains with those two to three days a week of that just quality instruction,” Taylor said. “We’re really hoping to improve the intensity of our instruction with that two to three days.”

Parents wish the district would’ve let them voice their thoughts rather than telling them what will take place.

Taylor said that would happen if it was a new program, but peer models aren’t new. Not much emphasis has been made on recruiting students in past years, she says.

“We’ve (made) multiple attempts over the last (several) years to include peer models in our program, and it’s kind of been successful, kind of hasn’t,” Taylor said.

They do welcome feedback and they hope to tweak and refine things going forward.

“The research on the growth that students make when they’re just by themselves versus with their peers, it’s pretty substantial,” Taylor said. “When they are with their typical peers, they have all that rich modeling, friendships, the language environment, high classroom expectations, challenges to grow and exposure to those age-typical developments.”

The district’s goal is to have six peer models and six special needs students in each class next year, Taylor says.

If you have questions or concerns, contact Christina Adams at (208) 525-7636.