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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 20 2013

Autism magnet program to stay at Lewis & Clark Elementary

FARGO – A magnet school program for children with autism will remain at Lewis & Clark Elementary, a Fargo School Board committee was told Monday.

The Long Range Facility Planning Committee also learned that it probably will take two more meetings for a community task force to come up with its initial recommendations for a 10-year facilities plan for the district.

A portable classroom will be added to Lewis & Clark this summer to help relieve crowding, rather than move the autism program to Washington Elementary on the north side, Superintendent Jeff Schatz said.

“We think that’s appropriate at this time,” Schatz said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Schatz said music classes probably will be taught in the portable structure. It will be placed in an area where portable classrooms had previously been situated.

Schatz said administrators plan to meet with parents of children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome to explain the decision.

Some parents had protested moving the program to Washington, saying autism spectrum disorders – which affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others – can make it very difficult for their children to adjust to changing surroundings and would hurt their academic progress.

The portable classroom will be moved from Kennedy Elementary.

Kennedy is getting some relief on its own crowding issues as kindergarten through second-grade children from Bluemont Lakes will be moved to the Eagles Education Center this fall.

Early Childhood Special Education classes now at the Eagles Center will be moved to Agassiz. Head Start, which also had classrooms at the Eagles Center, opted not to go to Agassiz.

Agassiz, now used for the district’s alternative high school and a number of other programs, will have some rooms renovated to provide bathrooms and changing rooms to accommodate the needs of the ECSE students.

Schatz said that the members of the Long Range Facility Planning Task Force are “feeling engaged, and that’s where we want them.”

Schatz said if the task force finishes its work in June, that the school board may be able to review its findings in July. He suggested that the board consider two meetings.

But Schatz cautioned that task force members may want more meetings.

“If this goes to August, we’ll let it go into August,” he said.

He said he hopes the district will have a new facilities planning guide by this fall.

Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders that appear in early childhood – usually before age 3. Though symptoms and severity vary, all autism spectrum disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others, the Mayo Clinic website says.

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger’s syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics, the Mayo Clinic said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583