York Suburban considers expanding district autism support program

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

The York Suburban school board is considering whether to bring back some of its autistic support students from the local intermediate unit by expanding its own support program.

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Student personnel director Natalie Hasenfuss recommended during a committee meeting Dec. 4 that the school board implement an autistic support program for students in grades 3 through 5.

Currently, York Suburban hosts five autistic support classrooms that include students from other school districts as part of an arrangement with Lincoln Intermediate Unit.

The LIU's system, known as “fair share,” has districts provide classrooms for LIU staff to operate in.

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The number of LIU support classrooms within a district is determined by the LIU and depends in part on how many students utilize autistic and other special education support services.

In York Suburban, 42 students in grades 3 through 12 receive autistic support services, according to Hasenfuss.

The district already has an in-house autistic support classroom for students in second grade and under, and new data presented by Hasenfuss shows a growing number of students in grades 3 through 5 with autistic support needs.

The number of students in those grades needing autistic support services is expected to increase to seven by the 2018-19 school year and to nine the following year — up from four this year.

In the current arrangement, the district pays out $36,648 per student to the LIU, leading to more than $146,000 in tuition costs this school year.

If costs stay the same, which is unlikely, that agreement will cost the district more than $256,000 for seven students next year, Hasenfuss said.

One well-staffed district support classroom of eight students includes one teacher and two paraprofessional staff members, according to Hasenfuss.

Along with some support from the LIU — though much more limited — as well as curriculum and supplies, the proposed change would run the district nearly $251,000 in the 2018-19 school year.

Autism prevalence in children has increased dramatically, from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented at the meeting.

Board member Joel Sears asked Hasenfuss for five years of projected costs and enrollment to better compare LIU's program to the district's own operation. 

The board has until March to notify the Department of Education and the Lincoln Intermediate Unit of a decision to start its own autistic support program, Hasenfuss noted.

The York Suburban school board will get a first look at the 2018-19 budget at the Dec. 18 meeting.

— Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at jgonzalez@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @EducationYD.