Changes Loom For Historic Des Moines School Dedicated To Special Education

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Dr. David Smouse’s love for education helped build Iowa’s first school dedicated to educating children with disabilities in 1931.  Teachers like Debbie Eldred who first taught inside it’s walls in 1977 continue to bring that passion into today.  “Smouse is a special school and it needs to stay that way,” she said while fighting back tears.  For over eighty years, Smouse educated students other schools just could not.  Kay Graham spent a decade at Smouse and now substitute teaches.  “I worked with kids that have behavior disorders so they required not only a lot of time academically but social skills and to cope with anger and things that got them in trouble before they came to Smouse.”

Now Des Moines Public School District Superintendent Dr. Tom Ahart says the need for educating students with disabilities inside Smouse Opportunity School is a fraction of what it once was.  “The number of students being served at those schools has continually and purposefully declined over time as we find better ways to serve our students in a comprehensive environment of the typical school.”

Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, intellectually disabled school children will move next door to Ruby Van Meter which already serves similar students.  Behavior disabled children will be moved back to their home school with some students still being served in a classroom at Smouse.  Dr. Ahart said, “It is somewhere around forty students. That is the population of students having a possible change in building that they would attend.”

Graham said the changes concern her because comprehensive schools are still sending children to Smouse.  “I had a student that I was asked to come in and work with one-on-one.  He only had been going to school two hours a day and when they came to Smouse they went all day long the first day.  He was behind academically and needed one-on-one.  His home school couldn’t handle it last year. Why is it going to be any different this next year?”

The district feels it will be much different thanks to staffing numbers increasing over the years at comprehensive schools.  “Because of upgrading of our staff in comprehensive schools, we are at the point where there’s only a small handful of students still needing those specialty services that we will continue providing at Smouse.  If you take fifteen to twenty students and place them where we have forty schools at the elementary level it is hard to imagine overwhelming will be the sentiment.”