SUSD board hears about challenges, recommendations for special education program

Saugus Union School District board members received recommendations regarding special education, mental health, program placement/structure and staffing on Tuesday.

During a presentation from Diane D’Elia, SUSD’s director of student services, and Linda Low, a consultant working with the district to assess their special education, the two laid out the variety of challenges and places to improve in the district.

Low said she had been brought on with the district to work with staff, visit schools and assist faculty with program implementation, compliance and next steps.

“Special education is not fully funded by the federal government or the state… and in order to meet the most vulnerable students, we have to spend a certain amount of money,” Low said, adding that it’s important to meet the needs of the students but remain fiscally responsible because the average cost of special education is rising $1 million a year for the district.

The presenters said the challenges identified to date ranged from identifying student behaviors in general education classrooms to the amount of resources around the district to the intervention structures and systems used for addressing a student’s social-emotional needs.

The presentation went on to highlight a handful of recommendations, with a mental health focus, for the board to consider that include: creating a districtwide multiple-tiered system of support for social-emotional learning, creating a behavior team, creating counsel groups based on site need, encouraging more trauma training and creating a licensed clinical social worker position at Skyblue Mesa and Cedarcreek.

Currently, there are only seven general education counselors within the district, but, according to the report, the creation of these new counseling groups could better focus on positive interactions and anti-bullying awareness on campuses, as well as support the freshly trained-in-trauma and behavior intervention teachers, administrators and staff. The newly created behavior team, made up of a lead expert, two to three para-educators and a licensed clinical social worker, who would work with students from around the district, according to the report.

In terms of the program placement and structure, recommendations included having the regional autism program (RAP) created at a pre-school and two TK-6 programs, and increasing the number of classes within the therapeutic intervention designed for educational success (TIDES) program.  

The presentation also recommended increasing the number of district office support team positions, such as a full-time program specialist, a part-time district office nurse position, a special education information system technician and a student services coordinator, and for the board to reexamine the currently available paraeducators position vacancies — 13 of which are retiring and another 30 that have been filled by substitutes or left vacant, if no subs are available, according to the report.

Tuesday night’s presentation was the first in a two-part series being presented to the district regarding special education. The second is scheduled to occur at the board’s next meeting May 21.  

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