Regional News in Review – July 2013

Schools struggle to hire teachers Schools across Minnesota with soaring numbers of students who have serious behavioral or emotional problems […]

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Schools struggle to hire teachers

Schools across Minnesota with soaring numbers of students who have serious behavioral or emotional problems face the dilemma of not being able to find or retain qualified teachers. The number of special education students in the state has increased by 10 percent in the last five years, and many have acute conditions that were once addressed outside of classroom settings. But as schools try to meet demand, the number of licensed special education teachers in Minnesota is in sharp decline. The number has dropped by almost 10 percent during that same time.

Working with special education students is becoming more difficult and dangerous, according to teachers. Crowded classrooms that lack support staff, which makes it more challenging to help special education students. Some teachers have been injured by students. Others have been frightened by behaviors.

“Some of our teachers are leaving after a couple of months,” Mary Roffers, who teaches disabled children at Hiawatha Elementary School in Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune. She has been bitten, punched and pushed by students. “They just can’t do it.”

More than 800 of the state’s 8,900 licensed special education teachers quit during the most recent school year the state tracked. The state granted just 417 new licenses for special education teachers, the fewest in at least five years.

In some parts of Minnesota, special education teachers are driving hundreds of miles a week to serve students at schools with no one on staff who can help them. One psychologist logged 22,000 miles between schools this academic year. Other schools have no better option than to have specialists work with students over the Internet.

New state requirements for those who work with students with autism, increased paperwork and larger class sizes are also taking a toll. [Source: Star Tribune]




Student faces criminal charges

A Hopkins High School student is charged with two felonies after prosecutors say she coerced a fellow cheerleader, who has cognitive disabilities, into acts of prostitution. Montia Marie Parker, 18, is charged with second degree sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution involving a 16-year-old schoolmate.

According to the criminal complaint, the victim was looking for ways to earn money. Parker contacted the victim through Facebook, got her contact information and pictures and placed an ad in the website

In March Parker arranged for the victim to leave school on two occasions and meet men for sex. The scheme was uncovered when the victim’s mother received a message about an unexcused absence from school. When she checked her daughter’s cell phone she uncovered texts exchanged between her daughter and Parker discussing acts of prostitution. The victim’s mother contacted police. [Source: KARE 11 News]



Student loses more than a backpack

A Blaine High School student with autism is speaking out after someone stole her backpack from school. The items in it helped her manage her autism and get through the school day. People have offered to replace the items, but it was still a hard lesson to learn.

Julia Hendrickson just finished her junior year. “I started crying,” Hendrickson told FOX 9 News. She had forgotten to lock her locker.

The backpack contained at least $200 in goods— including an iPod, earphones, a Walkman, her school books and two jackets. One pink jacket was an award for her hard work in the Pageant of Hope, which showcases the talents of girls with special needs and disabilities. She loved the jacket so much she sometimes slept in it.

Hendrickson’s mother, Catherine, vented her frustrations by penning a public letter to the crook on Facebook. Since then, it’s been shared more than 2,500 times. [Source: FOX 9 News]



Pioneering teacher retires

Robin Boeke was at Minnesota State University working on her special education licensure in the 1970s when she first saw a film about a child with autism. Special education itself was brand new.

“At that time, when people heard about autism, they would think of the classic child who maybe had no speech, was hard to engage. As far as in schools, that’s really the only kind of autism we were talking about then,” said Boeke, longtime autism coordinator for Mankato Area Public Schools. “The term Asperger’s for instance, wasn’t even in our special education vocabulary until the 1990s.”

Boeke retired this spring after a 37-year career, which was highlighted by the Mankato Free Press. “She’s a person who truly personifies the glass is half full. I mean, the glass is always half full, three-quarters full,” said John Klaber, director of special education. “She’s been the face of our autism services in this district for years.” [Source: Mankato Free Press]



Veterans’ disability payments, care eyed

When it comes to making the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) work better, veterans often know best. A group of St. Cloud area veterans made that clear to U.S. Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn. And other officials during a recent meeting. The discussion came at a meeting of local veterans, county veterans’ service officers, veterans’ advocates and former VA staffers at the Stearns County Service Center in Waite Park.

The meeting was held by Franken as one of many across the state to gain feedback on two veterans’ initiatives Franken is advancing. One bill, sponsored in the U.S. House by Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, would speed processing of claims for benefits such as disability payments. Another initiative aims to improve health care access for veterans in rural areas.

The Franken-Walz bill to speed claims processing aims to tackle a backlog of benefit claims coming into the VA system from aging veterans of the Korean and  Vietnam wars and from returning veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A key provision would bar the VA from requiring a VA medical examination to process disability claims when medical evidence gathered outside the VA system is deemed credible to decide the claims. [Source: St. Cloud Daily Times]


Marine reunited with dog tag

A Marine with disabilities from Two Harbors is being reunited with one of his long-lost dog tags. Lanny Martinson was a 23-year-old Marine sergeant in Vietnam when he last had his dog tags. He assumed they were lost in the haste to save his life after he and other Marines walked into a mine field 45 years ago.

But a network of people worked via social media to get one of the tags returned to him. “It’s like I left a part of me over there and somehow it’s made its way back to me from a dark place,” he said. His story has brought him a burst of fame among veterans’ communities online. The long-lost dog tag was discovered a couple of years ago in the undergrowth where an airstrip had once been at Khe Sanh, where Martinson stepped on a land mine that destroyed his right leg. He now uses a wheelchair and lives in Texas. [Source: Minnesota Public Radio]



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