By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Nearly 1,800 of Anderson Community Schools’ approximate 7,000 students classify as special needs. That’s about 25 percent of ACS’ total student population.
The number is high, Special Education Director Angie Vickery said, but it’s not unique to ACS.
According to the Pew Center on the States, nearly 20 percent of Indiana students in grades kindergarten through 12th are in special education programs.
While ACS has lost more than 2,000 students in the past three years, Superintendent Felix Chow said the number of special education students has remained fairly steady while others have left, making the percentage higher.
“It’s not all of sudden a large influx,” he said. “The base is going down.”
This year, the district lost around 100 students.
Chow cited legislative changes, such as vouchers and school choice, emotional response to the high schools’ consolidation and the closing of the Wigwam along with the economy as factors in the decreasing numbers.
The district lost 78 students to private schools while 240 transferred to another district this year.
But Vickery said those losses didn’t impact special education, and that in the past five years, they’ve lost around 50 students.
“I think we gained just as many back,” she added.
Kids move in and out all the time as the co-op fluctuates. Just from the beginning of the second semester, the department has gained 25 students, she said.
They also take 37 students from Blue River Valley, Alexandria and Elwood school corporations. They’re often more severe cases.
Students in ACS’ special education programs come from a wide range of disabilities such as mild to sever cognitive delays, learning disabilities, impaired vision and emotionally handicapped. There are actually 17 different classifications, Vickery said.
In the largest category are 623 speech/language students. But she added autism is the fastest growing area, with 155.
Autism now affects one in 88 children and one in 54 boys, according to the national group Autism Speaks, and is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S.
ACS has two autism professionals who work in classrooms with teachers and with families — offering suggestions for at home and sometimes making home visits.
To see if they qualify as special needs, students are first evaluated by a school psychologist and then a meeting is held with parents and the principal.
Then the educators involved set goals and develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Vickery said.
They focus on “what the kids need.”
In addition to classes at the schools, Vickery noted that ACS offers many programs, like special education preschool for those with developmental delays and speech concerns.
She said there’s a growing need in Anderson for mental health services, so those with mental health issues that cannot be addressed in the classroom may be sent to the Anderson Center for day treatment.
There are other programs they offer, she said, that bring students in and keep numbers fairly stable.
“We offer quality services,” Vickery said. “Many parents come back and say we want to be a part of ACS (again).”
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