Number of special ed students in Brainerd outpace state average

Nancy Anderson, assistant director of special education for the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative, talks to Brainerd School Board members Monday, Feb. 10, about the district's special education services. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd Public Schools continues to be above the state average in terms of students receiving special education services.

Every December, the Minnesota Automated Reporting Student System reports special education child counts to the Minnesota Department of Education.

In Brainerd, 1,598 students — or 22% — received some sort of special education services in 2019. That includes students who are enrolled solely in special education classes and those who may take only one or two a day. This rate continues to be higher than the state of Minnesota, which reported 16% of students receive services.

Brainerd stayed consistent with 22% of students reported to receive special education services in 2018 as well. The district percentage has increased over the last five years, though, from 18.6% in 2015. The state average increased from 14.4% in 2015.

There are 13 categories of disabilities for students who qualify for special education services. Nancy Anderson, assistant director of special education for the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative, outlined the six main categories students in Brainerd fit into during a presentation to the school board Monday, Feb. 10.


In Brainerd, students primarily fall into one of the following disability categories: speech/language, learning disability, emotional/behavioral, other health disabled, autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay. The highest number of students — 360 — are considered to have learning disabilities, with the next highest category being developmental delay at 318, followed by autism spectrum disorder at 237. The developmental delay category had the highest increase from 2015 at 43%.

Anderson said that jump is due to a couple factors, including earlier detections of the disability and more referrals from doctors. Superintendent Laine Larson said she expects to see more increases in that category in the coming years as well, so the district will keep that in mind moving forward.

Most of the Brainerd students receiving special education services do so in Federal Setting 1, meaning they receive services outside regular classes less than 21% a day. The fewest number of students receive Federal Setting 4 services, meaning they receive special education services for more than 50% of the day in a separate facility than a regular school — like the Lincoln Education Center or the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative.

To meet these needs, the district employs 150 special education teachers and about 17 speech language pathologists. Anderson said the district is in good shape with the number of special education teachers right now.

In other business Monday, the board:

Approved new hires: Rachele Gunter, a secretary at Washington Educational Services Building; Kathleen Mueller, a long-term substitute special education paraprofessional at Harrison Elementary School; and Britt Orton, a long-term substitute special education paraprofessional at Lowell Elementary School.

Accepted donations to the district: $1,000 from United States Tennis Association for community education spring tennis offering; 90 hygiene sets from Lakes Dental Care for the fourth-grade hygiene program at Baxter Elementary School; 36 hygiene sets from Lakes Country Dental and 450 hygiene sets from Winegar Dental for the fourth-grade hygiene program in the district; $5,000 from Mills Honda for community education driving simulator; $500 from Allstate Foundation Helping Hands Grant for community education driving simulator; $250 from Scott Parsons Farmers Insurance Agency for community education driving simulator; $3,000 from Brainerd Sports Boosters for Forestview Middle School basketball uniforms; $310 from Lord of Life Church for Forestview’s Fuel up program/food pantry; $500 from the Eagles for the Forestview courage retreat; and $1,000 from Mille Lacs Corporate for the community education Fathers Reading Every Day program.

Authorized a Form B grant application be sent to the Minnesota State High School League Foundation, which is signed every year, allowing the district to earn grants from the MSHSL. This year, the district requests funds for coach and student leadership training opportunities and a women coaches symposium.


Heard Feb. 17-21 is National School Board Week. Superintendent Larson thanked board members for their hard work and dedication to the district.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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