A large, mostly rural school district in central Mississippi will shutter its elementary autism classrooms due to budgetary constraints and a lack of resources, according to an article in The Clarion-Ledger.
About 8 percent of the district’s students with autism are served in the special kindergarten through 6th grade classrooms, which provide services like sensory therapy and behavioral-based learning for students with more severe autism. Those classrooms require more staff members and funding than most special education and general education classrooms. Students will now be dispersed to institutions or to special education classrooms in their home schools.
An administrator from Rankin County told The Clarion-Ledger that the district would have been able to salvage the program if it was receiving full funding from the state. In the past six years, Mississippi has underfunded its schools by more than $1 billion.
Nationwide, rural districts often struggle to meet the needs of special education students. A 2010 report by the National Research Center on Rural Education Support found that autism is one of the disabilities most commonly mentioned by rural administrators as being difficult to support. Nearly half of rural districts surveyed reported difficulties in finding special education teachers, and 66 percent of districts that could not find teachers resorted to hiring teachers with emergency or provisional certifications.
In Mississippi, more than half of all public school students attend rural schools, compared to the national average of about 24 percent. The state has one of the lowest graduation rates for special education students. In the 2011-12 school year, only 32 percent of students with disabilities in Mississippi graduated within four years, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.