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October 10, 2009

Special education needed for nearly a quarter of Vigo County students

TERRE HAUTE — In 2008-09, 24.6 percent of Vigo County School Corp. students needed special education services.

That represents the highest percentage of special education students among the 10 largest school districts that make up the Indiana Urban Schools Association, which includes Indianapolis Public Schools, Fort Wayne and South Bend.

The state average was 17.5 percent, and for Indianapolis Public Schools, 20.5 percent.

In 2000-01, 18.5 percent of Vigo County school students received special education services, so the percentage has increased over the past eight years.

Why is Vigo County so high?

The county’s declining population, coupled with its high poverty rates, could be one explanation, said Jeff Blake, executive director of Covered Bridge Special Education District.

The poor economy and loss of jobs here have forced many people to leave the community, he said.

More of the “general education” population may be moving out, which could account for the proportion of special education students increasing, he theorized, emphasizing that his theory is not backed by research or data.

Children living in poverty have greater risk factors, he said. Also, many of those children have not had the early learning experiences they need that would prepare them for kindergarten or preschool, he said.

Parents are struggling to help their children and don’t always know how to help, he said.

Blake also pointed out that the numbers and percentages of special education students can be somewhat misleading. Many of the students have language or speech impairments, which would not necessarily impact their success in school or ISTEP performance.

These students might have language delays or articulation disorders, and “a lot of kids grow out of that … as they get older, they won’t require services anymore,” he said.

As of Feb. 25, the school district had 4,528 students receiving special education services.

Of that number, 964 of those students had only language or speech impairments (LSI) and no other disabilities (ages 3-21).

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