Worker shortages shut down one summer program

Many in the Valley have been battling staffing shortages, and one West Fargo school has to now cut back, eliminating a summer school program.
ESY cancelled
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Owen is a 13-year-old boy diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

He’s been attending school at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo and his dad, Ron Hettich, says he loves school even with some complications that come with it.

“He has to work super hard the way it is just to maintain the level that he’s at, reading comes really hard for him, math is difficult, just everyday concepts that most take for granted are really, really difficult,” said Ron Hettich, a concerned parent.

Students like Owen are instructed under an Individualized Education Program or IEP, this determines if a student should attend Extended School Year or as Hettich calls it, summer school.

Owen has been recommended ESY since kindergarten.

“The purpose for the Extended School Year is for him to maintain that level, maintain those skills, basically work on the foundation that he established this year so that in the fall he can just pick up at the end of where he was this spring,” said Hettich.

But this year, Cheney Middle School has canceled its Extended School Year. West Fargo Public Schools declined an interview but said, they have had to make the very difficult decision to inform parents about their inability to staff what would have been a typical ESY experience for June and July 2022.

Hettich said they were given the alternative of Ipad apps, Camp-A-Day, and he says just recently a summer placement in another school still providing ESY.

“They’re supposed to be looking out for these kids, some of these kids don’t even have a voice, some of them are nonverbal,” he said.

In the Special Education in North Dakota guidelines for ESY Services, it states that each school shall ensure that extended school year services are available as necessary to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Hettich says he hopes each family impacted by this will be offered alternative placement for students in schools still running ESY.

“My hope would be is that they come to us and say, look I understand that Owen can’t go to Cheney because we don’t have staff, he can go to South Elementary where he went before, he could go to Liberty, he could go wherever but I want them to have that as an option for everyone,” he said.

In a statement from the North Dakota Department of Public Instructions, they said, “Our understanding is that Cheney Middle School is arranging an alternative for ESY (extended school year) this summer. This would provide the needed service for special education students that would comply with federal law. The school has been trying to work with the parent who has been in contact with you. The West Fargo school district is having great difficulties finding teachers to staff their ESY programs.”

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