Local News: Pierce City Schools eyeing special education (12/26/20)

Program hopes to see 75 percent of disabled students graduate

Pierce City High School is looking to bolster its special education program and has a goal of getting at least 74.5 percent of its disabled students a diploma by the end of their senior year.

Special Education Program Director Ian Margreiter said last week that, by the end of the 2019-20 school year, 50 percent of the school’s disabled seniors graduated. While that number is likely impacted by COVID-19 and the general health concerns that came with it, he told the Pierce City School Board the school’s special education team is hoping to bring that number up significantly this school year and plans to track the success of special education graduates in the future.

Currently, Pierce City Schools have 24 special education students on virtual learning programs due to COVID-19. Margreiter said there are six elementary school students learning from home, 10 middle school students and eight high school students.

One goal of the special education program is to try to get as many students as possible spending as much time as possible to regular classroom settings. Of the district’s 95 special education students, 44 are spending 80 percent of their time or more in regular classrooms. Forty-five students are spending between 40-79 percent of their time in regular classes, and only two students are spending less than 40 percent of their time with their peers.

The special education program operates with seven certified teachers, six paraprofessionals and one secretary.

The board also continued a discussion held over from its November meeting on how to use the remaining $281,000 from the $2.4 million no-tax-increase bond issue approved by voters in April 2018, funds which need to be spent by April 2021.

Projects completed, overseen by Superintendent Kellie Alumbaugh, include demolition of the old middle school, moving the high school office and building a connecting corridor between the middle school and high school, improving middle school pick-up and drop-off, erecting a new maintenance building, upgrading football field lighting, re-roofing the high school gym and installing new heating and air conditioning units at the high school.

Additions to the list of completed projects included paving the parking lot north of the middle school, upgrading student bathrooms at the elementary school and upgrading phones so that every classroom now had a phone and had the capacity now for paging.

Last month, Alumbaugh asked board members to prioritize additional projects. One option was to prepay the debt on the solar panels, which could use all the funds.

Board Chairman Bryan Stellwagen said his top priority would be upgrading the fire suppression system at Central Elementary, costing around $70,000. Placing shatter-preventing film on windows was another popular choice, though Board Member Zach Renkoski thought covering only the lower windows would likely prove sufficient. Renkoski also suggested upgrading the doors at the ballfields to prevent vandalism or break-ins. Also cited were additional fencing around the elementary playgrounds and upgrading security cameras on the ballfields.

Alumbaugh said the low bid for the elementary school fence came in at $2,900, and the board approved that project.

She also said a contractor has an appointment to take a look at the window project, and she is expecting to have bids for that effort soon.

She added that she has scheduled a walk-through to assess the fire system, which could cost anywhere between $7,000 and $70,000.

Finally, Board member Lee Jones asked about securing the football field. Alumbaugh said placing a gate at the ballpark would do little to deter people as there are other access points to the field.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Alumbaugh updated the board on COVID-19 cases at the school, informing them that Pierce City’s classrooms remain COVID free.

“We are looking pretty good with zero’s across the board,” she said, adding that there was one student quarantined due to close contact, but that person had not tested positive for the virus.

Jones also asked if there was concern about a possible up-tick in COVID cases following the Christmas break, because students and staff will be visiting family.

Alumbaugh said she expected to see that up-tick following the Thanksgiving break, but it didn’t materialize. She added, however, that if a student does test positive, she would expect to hear from the county health department before school resumes in January. She also said she would be working over break, monitoring the situation in case there is a spike in cases.

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