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Elk Mound Board of Education hears from public on open enrollment policy

By Cara L. Dempski

ELK MOUND — A trio of parents attended the Elk Mound Board of Education’s December meeting to voice support for changes to the district’s open enrollment policy regarding students needing special education services.

Ken Books, Shannon Garrett and Liz York spoke during the citizen’s forum portion of the December 18 meeting prior to the board discussing the district’s open-enrollment policy.

All three indicated support for allowing children identified as needing special education services after being approved for open enrollment to remain in the district despite a current lack of open enrollment space in the program.

Books also asked the board to consider relaxing its policy to allow his youngest child to be enrolled in Elk Mound schools with his older children despite the child needing special education; his three eldest children are open-enrolled in the district from Eau Claire.

According to Wisconsin state statute, districts have the ability to deny open-enrollment applications based on “whether the special education or related services described in the child’s individualized education program under s. 115.787(2) are available in the nonresident school district, or whether there is space available to provide the special education or related services identified in the child’s individualized education program, including any class size limits, pupil-teacher ratios or enrollment projections established by the nonresident school board.”

Likewise, state statute indicates a nonresident child determined to need special education services after he or she starts attending the school into which he or she is open enrolled, and said district cannot meet that student’s needs for the same reasons listed above, will be transferred to the district where he or she resides.

Books told the story of one family whose children returned to their resident district after one child was determined to need an IEP and services.

“I know that open enrollment policy is on the agenda,” Books finished. “I urge you to use careful thought and consideration in the guidelines you put forth.”

Garrett is a parent whose children started as open-enrollees, but then moved into the district.

She supports adjusting the policy for families like Books’ because, as she said “if they’re good enough to be accepted via open enrollment at the start of their Mounder education, they should be able to see that education to its finale.”

York rounded out the group by telling the board she finds it horrible to think of students who have had entire academic careers with the district no longer being accepted because they have special needs.

The board discussion

Superintendent Eric Wright opened the board’s discussion by indicating the waiting list the district currently uses for open-enrollment students may be confusing to some, especially since there is no space right now in Elk Mound’s special education classes.

He suggested the board consider getting rid of it.

Board president Tim Sivertson informed the board changes to the policy to include families like Books’ would likely be accompanied by hiring new staff members to provide for IEP requirements. He cautioned that an inability to obtain the necessary staff to meet students’ needs could open the district up to due process resulting in a fine or loss of funds due to a requirement by federal law to provide a “free, appropriate public education.”

Sivertson also said all Dunn-St. Croix schools have the same policy regarding open enrollment, and reminded board members of the district’s duty to residents.

“We have an obligation to our resident students to provide for their education. Shortage of staff or an increase in needs of open-enrolled students would have an adverse impact on the students who reside in our district, whether or not they need special education services,” he said.

Special Education Director Jennifer Olson told the board the district’s special education department has increased by 11 percent since the start of the school year, meaning roughly 11 students have joined the department after transferring into the district.

Olson admitted there are times when an open-enrolled student is identified with a disability during the school year, and there have been instances where districts have allowed nonresident students to stay with the district until the end of the academic year before transferring back to his or her home district.

In the end, the board moved to return the policy to the committee for discussion of removal of the waiting list for open enrollment. It will return to the board at the January meeting and Sivertson suggested it be placed before determination of open-enrollment seats on the agenda.

Other business

The board also heard updates on the strategic planning process, and approved a prioritized list of district needs. They approved six students for early graduation contingent on successful completion of this semester’s course work.

Wright informed the board Elk Mound schools were given an “exceeds expectations” rating from the Department of Public Instruction. The board accepted the resignation of custodian Mike Weiss, and heard a report on resolutions to be presented at next month’s Wisconsin Association of School Board’s conference.

The group then adjourned to closed session. Wright later reported the board approved special education paraprofessional Jessica Kummer for a part-time position, and Cindy Halderman for a full-time position.

A paraprofessional intern for the special education department was also approved for the spring semester, but district staff declined to identify this person at this time.