Offering Quality Special Education Programs

by Special Education Coordinator Sandra Haller

In the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District, we are fortunate to have quality special education programs. In order for students to qualify for special education services, they must be evaluated and have an identified disability. A disability is defined as a lifelong handicapping condition often associated with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, including education. Specific information on the disability areas can be found on the Minnesota Department of Education website. Students can receive services under one or more of the following categories, Speech or Language Impairment, Developmental Cognitive Disability: Mild-Moderate, Developmental Cognitive Disability: Severe-Profound, Physical Impairment, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Visual Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Emotional or Behavioral Disorder, Deaf-Blindness, Other Health Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Developmental Delay (early intervention for children beginning at birth to up to age 7), Traumatic Brain Injury and Severe Multiple Impairments.

Children from birth to two years and eleven months of age can access support through Minnesota Help Me Grow. If you have concerns regarding your child’s development, this is an informative website to visit. You are able to make a referral for a child by completing their online referral form or by calling 1-866-693-GROW (4769). Once the referral is made, an early childhood special education teacher will contact you to arrange for screening or evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for services. The early childhood special education staff working with our youngest population of students are part of the Benton-Stearns Education District (BSED) which is a joint powers cooperative shared with five other districts in the area. BSED also provides us with overall guidance and support for our special education programs. They support member districts with overall coordination of services including the specialty areas of vision impairments, deaf and hard of hearing needs, school psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and more.

Once children turn three, our district offers early childhood screening. All children in Minnesota are required to complete this screening prior to starting kindergarten. The screening looks at a child’s overall development and includes checking vision, hearing, immunization status, along with skills in thinking, communication, language, large and small muscles, and social/emotional development. If there are any concerns, the screening team will make recommendations to the parents for further support and/or possible special education evaluation. If you would like to schedule a screening, you can call Hillside Early Childhood Center at 320-255-8910.

In our K–12 schools, we have intervention teams who review students’ needs in order to determine if children need additional support to help them learn and grow. We offer a variety of interventions including educational and mental health support at all of our sites. If students need support beyond interventions, they may be referred for an assessment to determine if they might have a disability that is interfering with their education. If a student needs accommodation in order to function in school, they may be eligible for a 504 Accommodation Plan. If they have a disability that requires direct instruction, they may qualify for one of the categorical disabilities as identified in paragraph one. Once students qualify for special education services, the school along with the parents/guardians work together to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for the student. The IEP identifies goals, objectives, and accommodations needed to help the student make progress in school.

Parents/Guardians play a vital role in the education of their children. Open communication with their child’s teacher(s), counselors and/or social workers is the first step in seeking a clear understanding of what schools have to offer.