GILROY—Gilroy schools spend $9,425 per year to educate a student, but in one case the figure is $134,160, more than 14 times the average.
That’s the cost to send the student to a residential school in Utah, the closest facility that meets the student’s special education needs.
The child, and another in out-of-state placement, is one of 1,488 in the Gilroy Unified School District’s special education programs.
The programs are for children and adolescents, pre-school through high school, with “exceptional needs”—impairments, disorders, disabilities, disturbances or injuries that meet the federal definition of handicapped.
That works out to be one in every 13 Gilroy students. The program costs $17.8 million or 16.5 percent of the GUSD’s $108 million budget for 2015-16. But the district pays only $9.5 million of the cost, the rest, $8.3 million, comes from federal and state sources.
School districts by law must provide equal educational opportunities for all students, including those with physical, emotional and developmental challenges. If that cannot be done locally or with in-house resources, the district must look elsewhere.
“It’s our responsibility as a public school district to provide a free and appropriate education for all students, we are mandated to provide these services,” said Barbara Brown, the district’s director of student services.
To meet that mandate, GUSD has a staff of nearly 100 special education teachers, therapists, psychologists and other specialists and 124 paraprofessionals.
Children in special needs programs typically have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) developed by the school in close consultation with the parents.
“The parent or guardian is an integral piece of special education, we cannot assess or make a placement or change a placement without the parent consenting; they are involved from the very beginning,” Brown said.
“Sometimes parents bring forth a concern, sometimes a teacher will bring forth a concern,” she added.
“The parents need as much support to be able to provide [children] support in getting the services,” said Rachel Zlotziver, GUSD’s public information officer.
“There is that emotional support that [parents] need. They are so integral to the whole system; we have to remember we need to deal with whole families,” she said.
For students with IEPs, “Some have very minimal services, some have pretty intensive services,” said Brown, who oversees special education.
Indeed, the largest category of students on the program is those with a language or speech disorder, which could be minimal and require only articulation therapy, according to Brown.
Students with that disorder number 482. The second largest group, 463, is students with a specific language disability. Others groups include autism, 137, orthopedically impaired, 17, and intellectually delayed, 56. Other, much smaller categories include visually impaired, hard of hearing and deaf and students with traumatic brain injury.
Of the 1,488 students in the program, the district meets the needs of 1,412. or 95 percent, with available resources. Fifteen students are in nonpublic schools placement, such as the one at Gilroy’s Rebekah’s Children’s Services and Oak Grove, the Utah school that costs $134,160 per year.
“We try to meet all of their needs within their school day—speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral services, all in their general education or special education classroom, or pulled out in individual or small groups,” Brown said.
Time spent in special programs ranges from residential kids, which means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to a few hours of therapy a week, according to Brown.
“Basically, if a student’s needs are unable to be met within the district, then we look to the county to help us provide for that student,” she said.
“If the county cannot meet the needs we look at nonpublic schools and, depending on the needs of the student they can be either close by or throughout the state. There are times when the needs are such that there isn’t an appropriate place” in California, Brown said.
And the message to parents from Brown is this:
“What I would want parents to understand is schools are here to ensure student progress and excel and graduate from high school ready to go to college or wherever else they want to go.”
For more information the Special Education program and eligibility rules, go to: http://bit.ly/1KQE8fe.