The number of children getting special education services is going down in almost every West Michigan school district, despite the fact that the number of autism diagnoses is climbing.
The allegation is that districts are cutting special education services to save money.
So Target 8 crunched numbers obtained from the state, and found that while there's been a modest increase in the number of children with autism in special education, the overall numbers are going down. Parents and special education advocates told Target 8 that means some children with special needs may not be getting the help they deserve.
The superintendent of Calhoun County's Intermediate School District refused to sit down with Target 8 investigators, but did refer us to their attorney, Rob Dietzel.
Dietzel said the ISD follows strict federal guidelines that they must provide a free, appropriate public education to everyone.
“That standard is a fairly low standard. Those students are entitled to a public education from which they can benefit but they're not entitled to every service or program that might help them,” Deitzel said. “In other words, the threshold or the standard is pretty low and when you have the budget cuts that school districts have faced, the standard is one thing and then everything above that equates to dollars.”
Dietzel said kids who need extra help get it, regardless of their diagnosis. He also said the district does get some money back from the federal government for kids labeled as special education students, the amount is usually less than 30 percent of the cost of those educational services.
Target 8 used the Freedom of Information Act to get documents from the Calhoun County ISD’s special education program to find out what its records showed.
Again and again, when talking about ways to cut costs, one of the options was to put fewer kids in special education programs. The district even hired a consultant to look at program costs, a consultant who also suggested fewer kids in special education would save money.
Yet Dietzel said that was only a suggestion.