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Utah Students Stay Home; Oregon Dog Goes to School

During the next four weeks, students at three campuses of Utah's Schools for the Deaf and Blind will have long weekends—but the days off are unplanned holidays that are the result of a shortfall in money to keep the schools open.

The furlough days, which are scheduled for this Friday, plus May 6 and May 20, means full-time students will have to stay home and teachers and staff won't be paid, saving the school $200,000. Students who attend only on those days but spend the rest of their school days in their home district will not be served.

But while school districts around the country are grappling with budget cuts, this closure is because the schools overestimated how much school districts sending students to its campuses would pay for services, Superintendent Steve Noyce told me. The Utah state board of education has changed rules requiring districts to pay for services, but some districts said they didn't have the money to pay the schools for the deaf and blind because they hadn't budgeted for the expense. Had the deaf and blind schools not been granted $400,000 from different state agencies, kids would be spending even more time out of class.

The schools for the deaf and blind, which serve about 300 students full time and other children part time, haven't experienced something like this before, Mr. Noyce said, and "we sincerely hope that this is a unique situation that will never happen again."

For some students who only attend part time, the furlough could be a double whammy. Some Utah districts are closing schools to save money in addition to the closures at the schools for the deaf and blind. "They have been fairly common in the Utah public school system in the past two years because of economic hardship," state department of education spokesman Mark Petersen told me.

On a happier note, an autistic student in Oregon who wanted to take his trained service dog to school with him now can. When 10-year-old Scooter Givens is with his German shepherd Madison, he wears a belt attached to a harness on the dog. If Scooter becomes upset or startled and begins a meltdown or tries to run away, Madison sits or digs his claws into the ground and pulls back, stopping him. As I wrote a while back, it took federal Department of Justice intervention to allow the dog at school on a trial basis in March.

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