Authorities are reporting an increase in the number of children entering school who lack social skills and may have undiagnosed disabilities.
During a St. Joseph School Board business meeting earlier this week, Marlie Williams, assistant superintendent of academic services, said 10 years ago that the district would see one or two of these children. Now staff see five to seven such students per year.
Williams said that while the number of these children out of a total of around 10,000 enrolled in the district may not seem like a big deal, these children are using a lot of school resources.
“You use all of your staff on one child all day,” said LaTonya Williams, a board member, citing her experience with these children.
Williams stated that these students
often appear in the first year.
“And I don’t mean (the kids are) wild, but almost wild,” she said.
She said these children had never seen a doctor or been to school. They may not be mobile, are often not used to the toilet, and are not exposed outside their home. They will often be unable to speak or will have significant “speech delay”.
“I don’t know if we have a specific term for (these kids),” said Michele Thomason, director of special programs. “What I would say is that we have students entering kindergarten who need unique supports to varying degrees. “
Thomason said she believed the increase in the number of these children was in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting how other school districts have also experienced such increases. She said the pandemic has forced people to stay in their own “small family community,” preventing some students from having the social skills that “we would hope for when they walked in.”
“But we meet them where they are and we provide them with the right support and interventions so that they can grow up and be at school level and then respond appropriately with their peers,” she said.
Williams said these children can be “found” when police are called in a domestic situation.
Thomason said that sometimes children will arrive without a diagnosis “when we are confident enough that there is a disability.” She said that in these cases, staff members go to great lengths to design support so that students can be successful.
Thomason said the school resources needed for these children depend on their specific needs.
“If a student needs support at home, if they need food, if the family needs food or needs to be referred to a local social agency, we will do it for them. If a child needs special education tests, so will we, ”she said. “So it really depends on the needs of each student. “