The World Education STOCK

COQUILLE — An influx of out-of-state students is filling school systems on the southern Oregon coast.

At the Coquille School District, the majority of students arriving have complex issues or are in need of special education services.

Coquille School District Superintendent Tim Sweeney broke down the numbers, which are always based on the December student count. He pointed first to Dec. 1 of 2016, which showed 95 students identified with needing special education services.

But then on Dec. 1 of 2018, the district had 145 students in need of those services.

“At the end of this past school year, May 15 of 2019, our special education director told me we had 190 students receiving special education services,” Sweeney said.

Eighteen of those students graduated in May, but already an expected 14 are coming into the district in September.

“That’s what we know before school even starts,” he said.

He thinks there are a few reasons why this is happening, including Oregon’s universal childcare.

“Folks need additional support and come to Oregon to get care for their kids,” Sweeney said.

Not only that, but housing on the South Coast is less expensive compared to the rest of the state.

“It offers parents an opportunity to be in housing that meets financial needs while also taking care of children’s medical needs, which led – I believe – to an influx of students to the area,” he said.

However, it’s not just the CSD that is seeing this increase. Sweeney said it is happening in adaptive life skills programs across the region.

“We’re seeing more complex needs come into the area than we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “We’re seeing students that have more aggressive behaviors toward peers and teachers. We see students struggling to control their emotions.”

To deal with the increase, the CSD established a Structured Learning Center to help those students identified with behavior concerns. This means students are put into smaller classes to manage behaviors more effectively, lessen stimuli that can create stresses and behavior outbursts, Sweeney explained.

On top of that, CSD has gone from three special education teachers in 2015 to eight licensed teachers and tripled its educational assistant program.

“Because students come with more challenging behaviors and educational needs, they are funded at twice the rate of other students,” Sweeney said. “Funding from the state is how we keep classes small and give teachers more support. Our special education department has expanded to meet the need of children we’re serving now.”

From what he has seen just in his district, these students aren’t coming from one specific state but rather all over the country.

“We’re seeing them from the East Coast, the Southwest,” Sweeney said. “When a kid from New York City finds Coquille, we wonder how that happens. We have heard the housing is less expensive but if you’re coming from NYC, housing there is very expensive and it is in California too. We feel our housing is expensive, but comparatively it’s pretty mild. They also talk about the health care they’re getting that they weren’t getting previously.”

It’s not just one age group coming into southern Oregon either, from what Sweeney can tell.

“These kids are across the age spectrum,” he said, adding that there has been a big change in the overall school system that could be impacting this as well. “We didn’t usually identify students who needed special education until second or third grade, but are now seeing students come to us from pre-k, from Head Start, from kindergarten, and are having to address those needs immediately.”

Sweeney believes that the CSD has a strong program with a goal that every student leaves with either a regular or modified diploma and can graduate before moving on to the workforce.

“These kids have bright futures,” Sweeney said. “We’re working with their parents to create that future for those kids. By the time that struggling second-grader crosses the stage as a senior and receives their diploma, they have a plan for success beyond the Coquille School District. We need a team approach to this work and appreciate the strong partnerships with South Coast (Education Service District) for that help.”

But from where he sits, he doesn’t see the influx slowing down soon. In fact, it has been a challenge for CSD to find teachers with a special education endorsement and educational assistants with the patience needed to work with these kids.

“Staffing is a big deal, but I don’t see it slowing down any time soon,” he said.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.