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School board discusses special education study

BEMIDJI – The Bemidji School District is making progress in improving its special education program.

That was the assessment of Stephanie Hubbard, the district’s director of special education, during the Bemidji School Board’s Monday night work session. She presented the board with a report on how the district is working toward recommendations it received from the firm Futures Education last year.

Among those recommendations was to move away from having paraprofessionals assigned to individual students, but rather for broader programs.

“We are really working hard to explain to parents and the community that one-on-one is not necessarily the best thing for students,” Hubbard told the board.

Hubbard said they’ve been making progress in that goal. But, she said, that doesn’t mean the overall number of paraprofessionals has decreased.

“As a special education teacher, their case load gets bigger and bigger, they need help to provide services,” Hubbard said.

Another recommendation from Futures Education was the district should ramp up its Response To Intervention, or RTI, program. Hubbard said that program is about identifying ways to keep students in regular education classes.

Hubbard, who started at the district a few months after the Futures Education report was given to the district in April 2012, said they’ve made major progress in that area.

“We’re on the right track,” Hubbard said.

The board also discussed its policy for expulsions and a new way to deal with incidents.

Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent James Hess said the district has been offering agreements in lieu of expulsion to students who may commit less serious offenses, like accidentally having a leftover shell casing in their car after a hunting trip.

An alternative to expulsion would be voluntarily withdrawing from school for a length of time, and having a tutor help them with coursework, Hess said.

The district had as much as 12 expulsions in 2009 to 2010, but only one from 2012 to 2013, when there were six agreements in lieu of expulsions. The district started offering agreements in lieu of expulsions during the 2011 to 2012 school year.

“We’ve kept more kids, I think, engaged in the program and maybe on track for graduation,” Hess said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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