Board of education reviews restructured special needs preschool program

Published 4:59 pm Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Chilton County Board of Education reviewed plans for the county’s special needs pre-kindergarten program during a work session Thursday.

Jessica Anderson, special education preschool coordinator for Chilton County, presented plans for how special needs preschool services will be handled in the 2013–2014 school year.

According to the plans Anderson presented Thursday, Clanton Elementary School will house a preschool class to serve children ages 3–5 who are eligible for special education services.

Formerly called PALS, the county’s special needs preschool classes will no longer be offered at Jemison Elementary and Maplesville Elementary.

At its May 21 meeting, the board approved continuing a preschool class at CES to serve children eligible for special education services and approved to provide ESY (Extended School Year) services to special needs students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and who have severe learning and behavioral challenges.

The vote effectively approved restructuring the program.

Restructuring the special needs preschool program stemmed from school officials’ concerns about enrollment in PALS being lower this past year than it has been in the past, making it difficult to justify having three separate sites for the program when one site would be sufficient for services.

“There is a range of options in how we can provide those special education services to preschoolers,” Anderson told board members. “These four options are determined by the child’s IEP. You have to determine based on their needs what services they need.”

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a document designed to help improve educational results for children with special needs.

Anderson said special needs services can be presented in a preschool classroom, which for Chilton County would be at CES; services can be presented in the child’s natural environment; services can be provided in daycares and preschools in the community; or services can be “outpatient” services, such as speech/articulation services that can be administered in any elementary school in the county.

“They won’t have to just be served in classrooms,” Anderson said. “It’s all individualized and it just depends on what they need.”

Anderson said typical (non-special needs) students would be incorporated into the class to serve as peer models for non-typical (special needs) students.

The special needs preschool program formerly known as PALS served about 40 students in the 2012–2013 school year, 19 of which were non-typical students and the rest typical students.

Although the recommended ratio of typical to non-typical students in a classroom is 1-to-1 (half typical and half non-typical), Anderson said the number of each type of student in the preschool classroom at CES will depend on enrollment as well as how many days a special needs student is able to be in the classroom.

“We could serve all of these students very adequately and even better with the way the program is set up now,” Hayden said. “The first thing is our teacher is going to be certified in pre-K special education, and Clanton Elementary has the space for it (and) sensory rooms.”

They may continue to receive preschool services until they are eligible for kindergarten.

Any parents not able to transport their child to CES for services may have their child transported by a Chilton County special education bus with two trained employees.

Hayden said he would make an official recommendation at the July 16 board meeting for typical students to be admitted into the preschool program as needed.