Special Ed Co-op Faces Classic Rural Challenges

By Katie Friedman Correspondent

At their most recent meeting, Monday, February 12, members of the Maple Lake School Board heard information presented by Kevin Munsterteiger, coordinator for the Meeker and Wright Special Education Cooperative (MAWSECO).

Munsterteiger began with the December 1 child count, which represents the number of special ed students living within the school district boundaries, and does not necessarily represent the number of students the district serves in that capacity.

For the 2017-18 school year, Maple Lake’s total public and nonpublic enrollment is 936, with 171, or 18.3 percent, of those students receiving special education services, for a decrease of .7 percent from the 2016- 17 school year. The overall percentage of MAWSECO member schools receiving special education services is 16.1. Annandale has the highest this year at 19.4 percent, followed by Maple Lake. Delano is the lowest, at 13.4 percent;the state average is 15.4 percent.

Further breakdown of Maple Lake’s 924 students shows that 828 are enrolled in public schools and 108 make up the district’s nonpublic enrollment, representing students in both parochial and home school settings, all of whom are eligible to receive special education services from the district. Maple Lake has 171 children, age 3 to 21, served by the co-op, for the lowest number of any school in the group this year. Rockford currently has 237 and Howard Lake-Waverly- Winsted has 231, while Annandale, Dassel-Cokato, Delano, and Litchfield each have more than 300 students being served by the co-op.

Of those 171 Maple Lake students receiving special ed services, 39 have a primary disability area of speech/language, 34 of Other Health Impaired (with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder being the most common), and 33 of Specific Learning Disability, meaning they demonstrate a significant discrepancy between their levels of intelligence and achievement in core academic areas due to processing deficits such as memory, auditory, and visual/spatial functions. Other special education categories include autism spectrum disorder, deaf and hard of hearing, deaf-blind, developmental delay (most commonly applied for preschool children), developmental cognitive disability, emotional or behavior disorder, physically impaired, severely multiply impaired, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment.

Munsterteiger noted two major current challenges: filling special education positions with individuals who hold the appropriate licensure and meeting the needs of students who present very significant educational requirements. Minnesota currently faces a shortage of special education teachers, speech/language pathologists, school psychologists, and others who play key supporting roles in this field. As a relatively small school district, Maple Lake can experience difficulty placing a student in a group setting with students who have similar needs. Consequently, the district is forced to rely on programs offered through MAWSECO which may have waiting lists, and in many cases to provide students with one-toone paraprofessional services.

Superintendent Mark Redemske commented that while special education is a complicated program, “it does a lot of good things for a lot of our students.” He also pointed out several noteworthy programs the district provides to help students who struggle academically, including Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services (ADSIS) and other intervention mechanisms to help students with reading, organizational skills, behavioral issues and other challenges.

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