The Grand Forks School Board approved a new administrative position, a full-time assistant director of special education for the school district, at its most recent meeting.

The new position was requested by Superintendent Terry Brenner, who outlined the increased workload that the executive director of special education, Tricia Lee, is handling.

“We don’t bring these 'asks' very lightly,” Brenner told board members at Tuesday’s meeting. “Special education is becoming more complex, more complicated every year.”

The assistant director position would include supervising programs and staff to ensure schools’ adherence to federal and state due process procedures, oversight of special education paperwork, and compiling data.

“Parents know what their rights are, and are becoming more assertive, sometimes involving advocates,” Brenner said. “The advocates can act in a positive manner and sometimes are more adversarial. We’re seeing more of the latter.”

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Since 2013, the district’s special education student population has increased by 230 students, Brenner said. About 1,300 students are enrolled in the special education program.

Lee has reported that 18 percent of the student population is in special education -- a figure that is higher than the state and national averages, Brenner said. And she expects more students will be enrolled next year.

Over the last few years, due to an increase in students with IEPs, or Individualized Education Program, with significant issues, Lee’s role has become more involved in “legal fires relative to what the district can and cannot do with special education,” Brenner said.

“These demands significantly affect Dr. Lee’s availability to meet the regular demands of the day-to-day operations of the Special Education Department,” he said.

“Dr. Lee works tirelessly. From the administration’s perspective, she’s doing the work of two people.”

Dr. Eric Lunn, School Board member and retired pediatrician, said Grand Forks Public Schools has done such a good job in this area that “I’ve had parents who’ve moved to Grand Forks because of the special education provided here.”

The position is effective July 1. The district will advertise for applicants.

In other action, the board discussed at length the implications of the nomination of six public school buildings to the National Register of Historic Places by the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission.

Board members heard a summary of an opinion on the matter by the district’s attorney, Richard Olson, and remarks by Chuck Flemmer, chairman of the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission.

The board tabled the issue and plans to revisit it at its next regular meeting.

The School Board also approved a request by Tracey Johnson, director of the Head Start Program, to move 17 slots that are earmarked for the Head Start program in Grafton, N.D., to Grand Forks. Since 2016, the program has struggled to maintain a full classroom in Grafton, because fewer students income-qualify for enrollment, Johnson told the board.

The two children who are on the Head Start waiting list in Grafton can be accommodated by other programs there, Johnson said.

The change adds one more classroom to the current 10 Head Start classrooms in Grand Forks, she said. It will be located in an elementary school, but not at Century, which houses three Head Start classrooms, she said.

‘Dutot Drive’

The School Board also approved a request to name a frontage road, which parallels 47th Avenue South, on the north side of South Middle School, in honor of Nancy Dutot, the school’s retiring principal. The road will be named “Dutot Drive.”

The request was presented by Brenner on behalf of the school’s staff members.

It is not unprecedented, he said. In 2004, the School Board approved the naming of a roadway on Red River High School property as “Knudsvig Drive” for Everett Knudsvig, who retired in 1995 after 25 years as school principal.

“If there’s anyone who deserves (this honor) in the district, it’s Mrs. Dutot,” said Chris Douthit, board member.

The motion to approve passed unanimously.

The School Board also presented a “Certificate of Merit” to Riley Thoreson, a junior at Red River High School, for her service to the board. This is the first school year students have served on the board.

The other students who served this year, but were not at the meeting to receive their certificates, are seniors Averi Bullinger, Community High School, and Anastasia Usatii, Grand Forks Central High School.

The School Board also voted to renew its one-year lease with the state for space in the North Dakota School for the Blind that is occupied by Community High School, 500 Stanford Road.

The cost for one year, beginning July 1, is $160,673 plus $3,750 in rent for space occupied by the district’s portable classroom in the northwest area of the parking lot, said Scott Berge, the school district’s business manager.

The lease contract will expire June 30, 2020, and the school district will renegotiate the contract for the following years, Berge said.