A law placing public schools in charge of educating disabled preschool children has jeopardized the jobs of more than two dozen employees at a private non-profit facility that has provided the service for 17 years.
Beginning July 1, the state Department of Education assumes responsibility for teaching children 3 to 5 years old who have physical or mental disabilities. Currently, the state Department of Social Services contracts with private agencies to provide the service.Parents now pay what they can afford for their child's education. Under the change in the law, the entire bill, including transportation costs, will be picked up by state and federal governments.
Because local school districts are expected to absorb the disabled preschool students, Developmental Disabilities Inc. of Murray, known as DDI, will lose as many as 113 of its 182 students, according to director Leon Soderquist.
The 25 teachers, aides and other employees who work with the disabled preschool students have been put on notice that their jobs may not be there when the new school year begins in August, Soderquist said.
The only chance that their jobs will be saved is if local school districts decide to contract with DDI, which is the largest provider of service to disabled preschool children in the state, to teach the disabled preschool students instead of doing it themselves.
But special-education officials at the school districts that will become responsible for the DDI students say most of the children will be placed in public school.
The decisions about where to place the students during the 1988-89 school year won't be made until the beginning of the summer at the earliest, leaving DDI employees and parents of students at the facility uncertain about the future.
Both Granite and Salt Lake City school districts will decide where to place disabled preschool students on a case-by-case basis. Murray School District may put its two DDI students in public schools.
While MarDeanne Wahlen, Granite district staff associate in special education, predicted that the vast majority of the disabled preschool students will be in public school classrooms next fall, she said the district is willing to make arrangements for them to continue in private programs such as DDI if both parents and educators agree that's best.
Julia Miller, Salt Lake District's special projects coordinator in special education, said similar arrangements will be made and estimated that at least half of the disabled preschool students will be enrolled in district programs.
Miller said that because the school districts are now responsible for the education of the disabled preschool students, it will be an administrative nightmare to keep track of them if they all remain in private programs.
One parent whose 3-year-old son has attended DDI for 11/2 years said he is worried that his child's education will be adversely affected by switching schools.
"I want the best for my child," said Franz Kolb. "If they take my child and put him in the public schools and he doesn't get the same attention, I will be over there picketing."
Kathleen Barrett, DDI board chairman, said the change could have been handled better.
"We've begged and pleaded with the state and local school districts, `Please make your plans,' " she said. "This whole transition could have been smoother."
Barrett said despite the stress it has caused those associated with DDI, the facility and the parents with children there supported turning over responsibility for preschool education to the public schools.
"We knew this was a risk, that we might get ourselves legislated out of existence," she said. "We thought this would be more beneficial for children."
DDI does expect to remain open even without the preschool program, Soderquist said. The facility hopes to continue providing care for disabled children from birth through 3 years old, under an anticipated contract with the state Department of Health.