York Suburban board approves autism support classrooms

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
York Suburban High School Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

York Suburban third- through fifth-grade autistic support students will leave Lincoln Intermediate Unit support classrooms at the end of the school year after board members approved a measure to open a district-run support classroom.

Board members passed the measure in a 6-3 vote, with members Kenneth Watts, Joel Sears and James Sanders voting against the measure.

Before the vote, Watts said he was concerned about the process of choosing which students to admit into the district program and which to send to “fair share” classrooms run by the LIU once the eight spots in the district's classroom are filled.

More:Ex-Suburban superintendent apologizes, gets ARD

More:Early York Suburban budget sees $2.4M budget gap

More:York Suburban aims for new superintendent by spring

The maximum size for an such a support classroom is eight students, according to the Pennsylvania School Code.

Fair share classrooms run by the LIU accommodate students from across York County school districts.

Under the current arrangement, some York Suburban autism support students are in fair share classrooms at Red Lion and Dover Area school districts, along with one classroom at Suburban's Indian Rock Elementary School.

More:York Suburban considers expanding district autism support program

Student personnel director Natalie Hasenfuss noticed more students in need of autistic support services, rising in grades 3 through 5 from just one student in the 2013-14 school year to an estimated seven students in the 2018-19 school year, based on district data and projections.

Sears said he believed the district’s transfer of autism support to in-house classrooms undermines the vision of the LIU, which provides special educational services to local districts in conjunction with the Department of Education.

“We have an IU for a reason,” he said.

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

The cost for educating seven autistic support students in-house will be nearly $251,000 in the 2018-19 school year — about $5,000 less than the district would have paid under the current fair share funding formula.

The school district will now begin notifying the LIU and the Department of Education to initiate a transfer of entities to regain the classroom at Indian Rock and begin its internal operation in August.