It’s been shared that schools in the Fargo community continue to struggle with identifying a solution to address the needs of students with behavioral challenges. Rarely is there ever one singular answer to a complex problem.
Last September through December, a group was convened by the West Fargo and Fargo school boards, called the Least Restrictive Environment-Behavior Task Force. This group of more than 50 individuals, representing various stakeholders, met five times to study and make advisory recommendations regarding programming, services, configuration/locations and costs to serve and support children with strong behavioral needs in our community/region.
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A task force report was completed and shared in January 2019. While there were educational presentations and much discussion, it appears when it comes right down to it, the real charge was to decide where to put these students during the school day. Options included a continuum from a special program at the students’ home school to a special program at a regional center (attached or detached from a district building), or a special program contracted with an outside agency.
The task force did not come to a consensus. while it was noted in the report that an effective program or service delivery model is not a location, but a mindset, Fargo Schools appears to be moving ahead with prioritizing location – “level D.” The report defines this as a separate school where children with disabilities receive special education and related services for greater than 50% of the school day.
We are concerned that other integral aspects are being overlooked, including training, resources and administrative support. The task force members rated 10 related attributes as to how they are being realized in current programming. Eight of the 10 were given a rating indicating they needed “significant attention to improve” or the attribute was “absent to any perceptible or desirable degree.” These included: academic/goals/transitions; environment/culture/climate; social/emotional learning; parent/family engagement; community partners; safety/appropriate space; budget sustainability; and staff training/professional development. This does not reflect well on the existing system and should not be overlooked.
Segregation of students away from their peers is not the answer. Focus should be put on the issues relative to training, supports, resources and other mentioned attributes – things teachers and staff need to help students succeed. Until a system modeling full inclusion is implemented at a level of competence and quality, moving students to alternative placements is unfairly dodging the real issues at their expense.
McCleary represents the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health and Mental Health America of ND; Dvorak represents The Arc of ND and The Arc of Bismarck; Romanick represents Designer Genes; Donene Feist represents Family Voices of ND; and Young represents Family Services Network.