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District 518’s VIBE enrollment experiences ‘drastic increase’

WORTHINGTON — A significant enrollment increase in Independent School District 518’s online VIBE program has school officials considering how to meet the needs of its virtual students, which also includes a larger number of students that qualify for special education services.

As of Tuesday morning, District 518’s VIBE enrollment had climbed to 602 students, who are dispersed across the state. That is an approximately 250-student enrollment increase from last year, Superintendent John Landgaard told board of education members at Tuesday’s operations committee meeting.

Landgaard said assistance for recently hired ALC Principal Doug Brands — who also manages VIBE and the EDGE afterschool program at the middle school — has become necessary.

“With that dramatic (enrollment) increase, we need to get some help in there,” he said. “I don’t know what that means doing — whether that means a VIBE coordinator or an assistant principal.”

The number of the program’s special education-qualifying students has also climbed along with enrollment.

According to District 518 Special Education Director Deb Stoll, as of Tuesday morning, there were 48 students enrolled in VIBE that potentially qualified for special education services. That’s an increase from VIBE’s three special education-qualifying students during the 2016-2017 school year and 10 last year, she said.

With nine VIBE special education students currently awaiting case managers and the district’s special education assessment team already at its maximum capacity, Stoll requested the district seek timely assistance from the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative.  

“There’s no such thing as a waiting list — you start special ed, right away,” she told board members about the urgency to obtain more help.

Students enrolled in the district’s VIBE program are considered the district’s students, regardless of their geographic location across the state. Therefore, the district must follow the same student and special education protocol as if the students were in a physical classroom, Landgaard said.

That means the district is responsible for organizing a psychologist meeting with the student face-to-face for an assessment, whether that be a District 518 employee or a contracted provider, Landgaard told instructional committee members Monday morning.   

Instructional committee member Linden Olson suggested the district may have to consider capping the program in the future.

Landgaard said the funds VIBE draws can support additional staff costs. However, he added, the concern is that it will be difficult to fill whatever position or positions are created, since the school year has already begun.

Tuesday’s operations committee also included a lengthy discussion about after-school bus routes with specific regard to special drop-off locations. That came at the heels of a Nobles County Library request for a route to drop off students who participate in its after-school programs.

“(The library) doesn’t have the funds in their budget to run kids with however their programming works,” Landgaard said.

The operations committee discussed a variety or logistical challenges, including full bus routes, lack of bus drivers and its busing company, Bud’s Bus Service, seeking to potentially limit parents to one drop-off location for students.

The latter potential complication was brought forth last month, Landgaard said.

“We can’t do that and make that change a month before school starts,” Landgaard told operations members.  

Further conversations would be necessary if those changes were to occur, Landgaard said.

However, the more pressing issue includes whether or not the district will organize or fund a route to the library.

Operations committee members advised further discussions with Bud’s Bus Service related to the library’s request and other potential changes.

Other items from this week’s committee meetings likely to appear during next week’s full board of education meeting include:

  • Discussion of approving the maximum levy by Sept. 30’s deadline and further adjustment by late December’s final levy deadline. Landgaard said he wouldn’t feel comfortable approving anything but the maximum and making adjustments later. Operations committee members unanimously agreed, and the item will move forward for full board discussion.  
  • Based on the instruction committee’s recommendation, approval of a “Spirit of Worthington” Trojan Marching Band trip and performance at the National Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Ga. in December 2019.

The district’s full board of education will meet at 5:15 p.m. Sept. 18 in the Worthington High School Media Center.