Oconto Falls caps special education open enrollment

The plan does not affect district residents who need services
By: 
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

The Oconto Falls School Board on Jan. 8 accepted a recommendation to cap open enrollment for special education students, to focus on services for those who live in the district.

“We have never had caps on regular education spaces, so that’s a continued recommendation that we continue to accept students if they don’t have special education needs,” said Terri Olson, director of special education and pupil services.

Olsen led the board through the numbers showing that special education services at all four district schools — Oconto Falls High School, Washington Middle School, and Abrams and Oconto Falls elementary schools — are all at capacity or slightly over capacity based on the workload of district staff.

The recommendation, approved by the board unanimously, was to continue to cap enrollment for special education students from other districts.

“All of this is just for open-enrolled students. This has nothing to do with costs that might come up regarding students who are district residents for special-ed services,” Olsen said. “We have lots of students who need … services, and when we evaluate and determine what their needs are, we provide it as best we can in the district if they’re district residents.”

By state law local districts are required to provide special education services to district residents, in some cases until they’re 21 years old, Olsen noted.

“So you may see some students graduate — they may go through graduation — but they continue to receive services from us until age 21,” she said.

The state does not reimburse districts for many of these services, so local tax dollars must support “a huge majority” of special-ed programming, Olsen said, and “it’s a tough conversation” telling families the only way they can receive services is if they are residents of the Oconto Falls School District.

“I always try to explain to families, move here and then you’ll be included,” she said. “As a district it’s one mechanism that we have to try to control some of the costs that come along.”

Board member Bryan Baumler made the motion to approve the recommendation.

“I think I say this every time you give this presentation, so I’m going to be like a broken record and say it again: I appreciate everything that you do, you and your team, in this area,” Baumler told Olsen. “I appreciate all our educators in the district, but I do want to give you and your special education team just a big thank you, for many reasons. Keep up the good work.”

wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com