Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wisconsin school district to use its stimulus money for "seclusion areas" for disruptive special ed students

From Greenfield Now: Pictured is a seclusion room in a California school.

GREENFIELD, Wis. — School district officials now have a good idea about how it will use some of its federal stimulus money.

"Seclusion areas" for special education students would be built at three elementary schools and the middle school, and a new "Life Skills Center" would be built at the middle school for students with cognitive disabilities.

The School Board approved the plan Monday, and the district must now get final approval from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Help in special circumstances
The seclusion areas are designed as another intervention option for special education students who are disruptive in class.

According to a report to School Board members, teachers now have makeshift segregation areas where students are assigned after a "timeout" to cool down and process through their behaviors under a teacher's supervision.

The new permanent areas, with a door and a window, will be soundproof and padded. Guidelines for how the seclusion area would be used would vary from student to student.

"People look at a timeout as more of a reactive thing you do after a misbehavior occurs," Superintendent Conrad Farner said. "The whole idea of this is to … use the facilities in a way that actually helps (students) become more independent and prevent the misbehavior. It gives them a chance to overcome it."

The new Life Skills Center at Greenfield Middle School will be a classroom with appliances such as a washer/dryer, microwave and refrigerator. The goal of the room is to help students with cognitive disabilities develop skills for life after high school.

The $1 million in federal stimulus money the district received in April must be used for special education and Title I, a program that supports educational services for low-income students and parents.

The intent of the stimulus funds all along has been for projects that would serve students for years to come, said Todd Bugnacki, director of elementary education.

In other words, the district wants to avoid using the money on staffing because it would simply lead to layoffs down the road.

The School Board's approval Dec. 21 is one of two steps the district must take before getting the final go-ahead from the state Department of Public Instruction on the proposal.

The plan received a "no" vote from School Board member Bruce Bailey, who said he wanted to see the $131,000 project be put out to bid rather than handed to construction company CG Schmidt and architectural firm Eppstein Uhen.

Both of those companies are currently involved with the Greenfield High School renovation project and have worked on several other district projects. The familiarity and comfort with those companies is one reason why administrators opted not to go through a lengthy bid process that could wind up adding to the cost of the project, Bugnacki and Farner said.

Since the money comes as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there is no fiscal impact on the district, officials said.