Sarah Stultz: From a mother of a special education student

Published 5:20 pm Monday, April 1, 2019

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz


I have written about my son numerous times before, but today I wanted to write about how things happening at a national and local level are impacting our family’s lives.

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As many of you may know, Landon started kindergarten this year at Halverson Elementary School.

Landon, who turned 7 in January, is diagnosed as having a cognitive developmental delay, along with epilepsy.

We knew early on that Landon was not meeting the typical developmental milestones at the same time as a majority of children his age, and he began receiving special services through Early Childhood Special Education with the Albert Lea school district.

Over the years, he has received physical, speech and occupational therapy, and he has what is referred to as an Individualized Education Plan — or IEP for short — which outlines his needs and goals and what is being done to achieve those goals through the district.

I remember those early years after hearing that my child was not meeting milestones and that it was time to sign him up for special services. Though heartbreaking in a sense because I knew it was going to be a long road ahead for him, I began to be in awe at the multitude of services he was receiving and the kind and talented people who have so far provided those services.

I am grateful to be alive in a time where children with special needs are recognized as individuals who have the right to learn and grow like others and are not hidden away like they once were. I am proud to see that each and every child matters, whether that child comes from a wealthy family or one that struggles to put food on the table.

Landon is one of 750 students enrolled in special education through the Albert Lea school district — and that number appears to be rising.

In a story written by journalist Sarah Kocher in Saturday’s Tribune, it stated 20 percent of the district’s students ages birth to 21 are enrolled in special education. This percentage is four points higher than the state average of 16.2 percent.

Not only is the number of students needing special assistance rising with the district, but so is the cost. And while all of this is happening, the federal government is providing less and less for special education services to children with disabilities.

While our school district has stepped up to fill the gaps in decreased federal funding, it has put a strain on the district in other areas, such as gifted and talented programming, more elective and language options, and hiring more teachers to offer smaller class sizes, to name a few.

I’ve heard it said time and time again that a chain — which can also be likened to a society — is only as strong as its weakest link.

We must stand up for these precious children, many of whom cannot step up for themselves, and urge our legislators at both the state and federal levels to support our districts as they provide these services. Help these children thrive as they continue on their journey to become contributing members of the community.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.