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TORII STATION, Okinawa — Special-education programs in Department of Defense schools got a shot in the arm last week.

Department of Defense Education Activity announced an additional $56.5 million in funding over the next six years to underwrite improvements in special education. Exact monetary breakdowns for Department of Defense Schools-Pacific weren’t yet available, but one administration official called the measure “the most thrilling thing that’s happened” in her DODDS career.

Sylvia Milner, DODDS-Pacific Special Education coordinator, expects the additional funding to boost the program with increased staffing, better training and more in-depth assessment of students.

“It will give our special-education teachers more time for direct involvement with the students,” Milner said. “The whole package is a very exciting prospect for us.”

Schools will add 114 additional special-education positions for schools in the Pacific, Europe and the States, according a DODEA news release. Changes are expected to begin as soon as October. The final additions will be in place by 2010.

The move came after school officials held a series of focus groups with teachers and parents of children with moderate to severe learning disabilities to recognize areas that needed more attention, according to DODEA. The groups’ recommendations formed the basis for the funding initiative. DODEA officials are planning to detail a plan to dispense the funds and personnel allocations in the next few months.

The additional jobs will support the establishment of assessment teams, freeing special-education teachers to spend more time in direct involvement with students. Increased man-hours were also funded by the measure, allowing for more coordination and planning between special-education and regular classroom teachers.

Technology also got a boost with plans for additional curriculum materials for students with moderate to severe disabilities. Teachers, administrators and even parents will receive increased training for children with learning disabilities as well.

Milner said between 10 percent and 12 percent of DODDS-Pacific students receive assistance, and up-to-date education programs are quality-of-life issues when transferring to duty stations in the Pacific.

“Families often have concerns,” Milner said. “For these families, it’s extremely important to have these services.”

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