TUSD Special Ed program not accepting out of district students - Tucson News Now

TUSD Special Ed program not accepting out of district students

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Tucson News Now got a rare glimpse of Tucson Unified School District's special education program.

The program is so popular with parents of children with special needs, the district has had to turn down out of district children wanting to be a part of the classes.

Staff say, it's is not just the committed teachers who make this program a success, it is also the committed parents.

Instead of special ed at TUSD, they call it exceptional ed. It is a program Stephanie Wade really wants her 10-year-old legally blind son, Marquise, to get into.

"That's a better program for him. He can get one on one service," she said.

But for the last three years, the answer from the TUSD school district has been no, classes are full.

"It's always hard to tell a parent 'no, this program isn't available to you,'" Dan Perino, TUSD transitions coordinator, said.

More than 8,000 students in the district have special needs. That is about 14 percent of the total student population.

"It may include specific learning disabilities, students with autism or those with challenges that require specialized instruction," Dan Perino said.

Matthew Fairbanks, 19, is one of them. He has spent more than 12 years in TUSD's exceptional education program.

"All my classes are my favorite," he said.

"My son Matthew was diagnosed with autism at a very young age," Laura Fairbanks said.

For parents like Laura, it has been amazing to watch their children grow.

Thanks to a federal grant, TUSD has been able to partner up with the University of Arizona to give older TUSD students, like Matthew, a chance to experience college. It is called Project Focus and it is a part of the reason TUSD's exceptional ed department is popular and in demand.

"It makes me feel he will be able to live independently. I've seen him grow," Laura said.

Reina Koussa who was born with developmental disabilities has blossomed in the program. 

"I got 30 out of 30 on my first quiz. I got an A.  It's a good grade," she said. For their parents, watching their special children learn skills they will need to survive on their own is a dream come true.

Koussa has found a passion for sign language.

Fairbanks loves his rock music, his friends, and is able to find his way around campus on his own.

The program is considered a model that other districts hope to follow, Wade says she is not giving up she continues to hope to get her child enrolled.

Part of the reason the district cannot accept more students is the big national shortage of special ed teachers. They're in demand. There are 425 special ed teachers at TUSD and 33 vacancies for special ed teachers right now. 

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