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County to oversee education plan for some RSW jail inmates

By Alex Bridges

When the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail north of Front Royal opened in June, the burden of overseeing the education of some jail inmates from the three counties fell to Warren County Public Schools.

County public school systems have the responsibility of educating learning-disabled students, and that includes adults aged 18-22 who are being held in local jails.

Michael Hirsch, director of special services with the county schools, explained that the system had a part-time teacher and classroom at the former local jail for years.

"When we became regional, it's a bigger population, so our job was to figure out how to do that," Hirsch said.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors recently approved the School Board's request for about $102,000 in local money for educating inmates with the understanding that the state would reimburse the expense. The spending is another added operational cost associated with the jail but, as a Warren County school official said this week, local divisions always have had the responsibility to educate learning-disabled students..

Warren County schools spent approximately $20,000 last fiscal year to cover the salary of a part-time special education teacher who worked with inmates at the local jail. Warren County shared the teacher with Shenandoah County. Warren County provided services to approximately 40 students in the last fiscal year, Hirsch said.

The school system begins providing services to any inmate incarcerated for more than 10 days, Hirsch said. This includes inmates awaiting trial and those convicted and serving sentences.

Asked what the $102,000 covers for the county, Hirsch said a teacher's salary with benefits can cost about $70,000 of that. Some of the money covers counseling and support services by a school psychologist. The school division had to buy new computers and other equipment, and the jail provided Smart Boards in the two classrooms for virtual learning. Hirsch noted that computers in these classes would not have Internet access.

Warren County school officials plan to look at the numbers of inmate-students it educates this year to determine if the division needs to hire another teacher, Hirsch said.

Officials knew early on what a regional jail in the jurisdiction would mean for the division and began planning accordingly, Hirsch said. Once school officials estimated the number of inmates the division would need to teach, the division came up with an amount it requested from the state. Hirsch also complimented jail staff for helping the school division set up its program in the facility.

The number of inmates enrolled in the county through an individualized education program fluctuates. Each inmate entering the jail completes a survey in part aimed at identifying whether or not that person has a learning disability. Answers to some of the questions then trigger education officials to contact an inmate's school division to obtain more information about that person and find out if he or she has a disability.

The teacher assigned to the special education program at the jail moved into her class space at the facility on Monday. The teacher will work with the educators involved in the GED program to provide other services for these specific students in the hopes they obtain their GED and possibly a diploma. Hirsch explained that the special education teacher will address each inmate's instruction based on his or her individualized needs.

"It's not going to be a canned program," Hirsch said.

Jails already offer a GED program available to all inmates.

"Our responsibility is to provide services above and beyond that GED program," Hirsch said.

The budget for the program also allocates money for counseling, social work and psychological services for the students. It also allows the county to provide substance abuse services such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

"We find that substance abuse is a major trigger with our students with disabilities who are incarcerated," Hirsch said.

The county school division had no problem finding a teacher to run the special education classes at the jail, Hirsch said. The division had a pool of applicants for the job.

"It's an exciting position," Hirsch said. "You can really make a difference."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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