A number of changes have been approved by the Minneapolis Board of Education for the district’s special education programs, some of which affect children with autism.
The plan, which requires teachers who work with students with autism and special needs aides to become spread out across the district rather than concentrated into specific programs, is set to begin in the next school year. In addition, special education funding will be reallocated in an effort to offer more support at community schools for those children who have milder cases of autism.
However, many parents in the district are concerned about the changes and have taken those worries to the school board, arguing that the current system works for their children. Although the Board of Education did hear parental concerns during a public comment session earlier last week, no board approval is needed for the changes to take effect.
“Suddenly that’s all being dismantled,” parent Anna Ursu said. “These kids who are just like ours are going to be put in their community schools without their level of support.”
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has also expressed concerns regarding the speed at which the district is moving to implement the program, saying it is going too fast.
District officials, meanwhile, maintain that the changes are being made to allow children with mild autism to attend neighborhood schools and spend more time in general education classrooms. Specialized programs will remain, but will be reserved for students who need specialized help.
Officials added that school staff members will be trained in autism education to allow for students with milder autism to receive the help they need in their neighborhood schools, writes Tim Post for MPR News.
“We really want to bring our special education services to our students in our neighborhood and community schools versus having our students go to the special education services,” said Amy Johnson, director of special education for Minneapolis Public Schools.
Studies have shown that allowing autistic children to spend more time in general education classrooms helps them to progress both socially and academically, and has positive effects on other students in the classes as well. However, Veronica Fleury, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development, said help is needed in order for that integration to happen.
“There needs to be some supports in place for the students and also the educators that are involved with instruction,” she said.
Johnson went on to say that the coming changes will allow the district to better serve the number of autistic children currently attending school.
There are currently over 850 students with autism in the district. In 2000, there were just 224 students classified as having autism. The increase is being seen across the country, and according to researchers, this is due to being able to better diagnose children with autism and at an earlier age.