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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
The Ketchikan School District is conducting its yearly search for young people ages 3 to 21 years old who might qualify for free special education services at the school of their choice.
Derek Meister, Ketchikan High School psychologist intern, said the district’s push this year is to get the word out to the community that, starting Thursday, families with a soon-to-be-preschooler can go to the school of their choice and pick up an application packet for their child to be enrolled at the school, and to be screened for a disability.
He explained that any student that is going to turn 3 years old by the beginning of the school year, or those that are already 3 years old, can pick up an application. Meister said any student who is going to be enrolled in preschool will be screened for a disability, whether there’s a disability or not, as it’s standard procedure.
The application packet includes demographic information, developmental questions, such as when did the child begin to walk, talk, and if and when toileting has begun; and whether a parent has concerns with their child’s motor skills, speech development or cognitive abilities.
After the application has been filled out, families will be able to schedule an appointment with a school official. The next step is for the student to be screened for a disability.
“They’re just looking for those indicators that something might be different,” Meister explained. “The cool thing is that we’re all different, right? Like all of our brains, all of our bodies develop differently. That’s a normal feature of being a human being, but sometimes the difference is so pronounced that it might qualify as a disability, according to the state and federal guidelines.”
Meister went on to say that at the preschool level, if a child has a disability, that’s going to guarantee them a spot in preschool special services. However, once they advance in grade level and they demonstrate what they’re capable of, having a disability won’t necessarily mean that a child is going to need special services.
He said the reason for this is because not all kids need extra help, as they’ve found a way to cope with their disability, and they have support both at school and at home.
“There’s a number of kids that have been identified with disabilities that are doing great,” he said.
On the other hand, Meister said some students do require those special services in order to be successful in school.
Families can pick up an application on or after Thursday, and screenings will be held at the beginning of April and at the start of the school year.
“I really feel strongly about the family, community and school partnership — that we do best by our kids and by our students when we collaborate with each other, when we have important conversations with each other — even when those are difficult, because they can be sometimes,” Meister said.