FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Fargo Public Schools' plans for a special education only facility have been a source of community concern for well over a year - with parents speaking out at board meetings (both in favor and opposed to the idea), task forces being formed, and state and federal investigations.
Now, the district says it's moving forward with its plans to create the facility - but it may not be exactly what you think.
“We had just decided, because of some of the concerns we were hearing from the community, that we wanted to do more to get that community conversation around that and go to a task force. And that’s why the conversation kind of stopped and we’re picking it up now,” says Fargo Schools' Superintendent Dr. Rupak Gandhi. “We are currently exploring what is the best site to provide a level D service or a level D environment for our students.”
Superintendent Gandhi says the special education only facility, or an LRE (least restrictive environment) level D facility, isn't just for students with behavior concerns. Instead, it's for students who would thrive in smaller settings with more services - such as students who are over-stimulated by crowds or loud noises.
"Level D is a setting where students – because of whatever triggers or whatever their needs are – might not be as successful in a traditional school setting. So they need to be in a separate environment, and that is a separate school setting," he says. "It's not just, 'Oh, a student has a behavior problem. That's why we're putting them there.' The student has a disability and that disability can sometimes be triggered by being in your traditional schools."
"Sometimes children, with some real severe sensory issues or whatever, do thrive better in an environment where they are not around a lot of people," says Gerry Teevens, the Director of Special Education with North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction. "It's got to be a very carefully made decision by the team – what is the best placement for this child. Not just because of behavior. I mean, it shouldn't be they've destroyed the room or whatever and they're automatically going to that facility."
Gandhi says he's currently looking into sites that could house the program - and some of those locations are on the same campus as traditional schools so students could have an easier time transitioning back to their general education classrooms.
"We would look at potential sites that would be connected or on the same property of existing schools," says Gandhi. "No setting in special education services is permanent. I think the goal of having an individual education plan (IEP) is to take a look at what can you provide and in which atmosphere can you provide the student with the academic instruction they need and monitor their progress – and it should be fluid."
Gandhi also says the district is looking into how to improve its levels A, B, and C programs in its general education schools as well.
Now, he says he hopes to present this new plan for a level D facility to the school board as early as this fall. After that, it's up to Fargo School Board members to determine how to proceed.