Austin ISD takes on special ed, magnet school

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a few weeks of summer vacation, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees got back to business Monday night.

During a work session, the administration presented two options for a new high school in South Austin. Chief Officer of Teaching & Learning Edmund Oropez told the board the District can re-purpose a South Austin campus for $16 million, or build a new facility for $134 million. Both options require the district to get more funding.Trustees have been talking about a new high school option in South Austin for a couple of years, which would help ease overcrowding at Bowie and Akins High Schools. There have also been talks about opening a second Liberal Arts and Science Academy, but board members say if that happens the campus needs to be more diverse and inclusive.

Voters approved bond money to purchase land for a new South Austin high school, and most recently the board revealed they are looking at two separate pieces of land. Trustees have not announced where the land is located.

When it comes to special education, Austin ISD is rolling out a new restructuring plan they hope will close the gap between non-special ed students.

The district compared attendance rates and 4-year graduation rates between special education and non-special education students. The average 4-year graduation rate among AISD special education students is 20.8 percent lower than non-special education students.

Nearly half of the district’s special education students, 3,738, have a learning disability; 1,733 have a speech impairment and 1,076 have autism. Click here for the entire breakdown of student disabilities.

A new executive director position was created, and Oropez says parents should be able to notice communication improving between departments.

“They’ll start to notice there’s more integrated services across the board, and that we work a little more seamlessly with our staff developments and our teacher training to better serve our kids,” said Oropez.

Special education parent Debbie Tolany, who is new to Austin ISD this year, is hoping the transition from Dripping Springs ISD is a smooth one.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk, and not a lot of action so I’ll be really really curious to see if it leads to some beneficial change for the students, and I hope it does,” says Tolany.

Her son, Miles, will be starting eighth grade at O’Henry Middle School. He is severely autistic, non-verbal and has epilepsy among other disorders.

“I just want him to be happy, I really do, and I want him to be surrounded by people that have had the proper training to work with him,” said Tolany. “To anticipate his needs as they come up and to be enthusiastic.”

Tolany says the biggest problem she sees with special education is money. In her experience, aides who work with her son during the school day do not get paid enough for the training and skills required.

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