CANTON - The Canton and Potsdam school districts have a higher percentage of students receiving special education services compared to the statewide average, according to data collected as part of a comprehensive merger study.
The statistics were based on the 2012-13 school year for kindergarten through 12th grade and were included in a final merger report released in June by consultants Western New York Educational Service Council, Buffalo.
Based on the report’s findings, 15.9 percent of Canton’s 1,250 students and 12.9 percent of Potsdam’s 1,255 students were classified for special education services. That compares to a 12 percent statewide average.
Each district has its own Committee on Special Education and Pre-School Special Education Committee which identifies students who require those services.
During the 2012-13 school year, 237 students at the Canton Central School District received special education services compared to 165 students in Potsdam.
“There is no precise way to identify reasons for the difference in classification rates,” the report states. “It may be a difference in philosophy of the Committees on Special Education and Pre-School Special Education.”
However, the consultants said the disparity in special education rates between the two districts should not be considered a barrier to merging, partly because new committees for special education and pre-school special education would be formed if the districts combine.
Canton Central School Superintendent William A. Gregory said in an email, “At this point, I don’t believe we can categorically say there are significant differences in philosophy between Canton and Potsdam with regard to the provision of special education services.”
if the merger is approved, he said potential differences in the delivery of educational services would have to be identified and adjusted.
The report said “transitional philosophical adjustments” will be required to establish the new district’s approach to identifying and supporting students in need of services. While it will require thoughtful discussion, it is not seen as an obstacle to consolidation,” the report said.
A large portion of special education students are either classified as learning-disabled or “other health impaired,” which includes students identified as having attention deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD.
At Canton Central, the data shows 87 learning disabled, 57 speech and language impaired, and 55 other health-impaired students.
Also, 16 were classified as having autism; four as emotionally disabled; three as hearing impaired, five as intellectually disabled; eight as multiple disabled, one as ortho impaired and one with traumatic brain injury.
At Potsdam, 60 students were categorized as learning disabled, 43 as other health impaired and 19 as speech and language impaired. Another 16 were identified as autistic; one as deaf; one as emotionally disabled, three as hearing impaired, 11 as intellectually disabled, nine as multiple disabled, and two as ortho impaired.
Mr. Gregory said Canton’s proximity to St. Lawrence County government services could be one factor in boosting Canton’s special education rate.
“Although there is no hard data that I can cite to support this, the general consensus is that Canton’s percentage of students receiving special education services is generally higher than the statewide average because more families with special support needs choose to reside in Canton because it is the county seat, where more of such needed services are typically available,” he said.
Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said his office does not maintain special education rates for BOCES’ 18 component districts, but the overall range is generally between 10 to 17 percent. The percentage often varies each year depending on student needs.
“There are a lot of variables that factor into it as far as who is classified and who is not. They all use the CSE process and that’s on a student-by-student basis,” Mr. Burns said. “There’s a slightly different culture in each district. Some districts are more supportive of the complete inclusion model than others.”
Mr. Burns said Canton provides the majority of its special education services with its own staff members, while Potsdam contracts with BOCES to provide most of its services.
“Canton tends to provide its own special education classrooms while Potsdam not only sends students to BOCES classrooms, but is a host site,” he said.
Ogdensburg, Heuvelton and Lisbon central schools are also host sites that provide special education services through BOCES.