Special Educational Services
Regional Low Incidence Projects

The purpose of the Regional Low Incidence Project is to assure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and equitable services for learners with low incidence disabilities throughout the regions. Historically, school districts, large and small have experienced numerous challenges in providing equitable special education services to learners with low incidence disabilities. However, these problems are exacerbated in rural areas and small school districts due to the low number of students with these disabilities in the overall school population and community and the distances between children with similar disabilities. One of the primary goals of the Low Incidence Project is to work with health care and other agencies to assure that all children with low incidence disabilities are identified from birth so that appropriate services can be established early in the child’s life.

Low Incidence Disabilities Include Nine (9) Areas:

• Assistive Technology
• Autism Spectrum Disorder
• Blind/Visually Impaired & Orientation & Mobility
• Development Cognitive Delayed
• Deaf/Hard of Hearing
• Deaf/Blind
• Physically Impaired
• Traumatic Brain Injury
• Other Health Disabilities

A related service offered through this program is in assistive technology. Many learners with low incidence disabilities can achieve greater academic success and overall independence when provided with assistive technology information and/or devices. The Assistive Technology Network helps to foster these goals by assisting in funding supplies, equipment and consultants. They work with learners in the following ways:

1. To help the learner accept and understand his/her disability and how to live and succeed in a world where physical, emotional and intellectual challenges can cause him/her to learn differently from the larger learner population. An appropriate assessment and assistive technology can help to assure the learner maximum academic success and optimum personal independence;
2. To provide parents of children with disabilities with a networking group to share ideas and learn about available services;
3. To help regular education students better understand the learning challenges encountered by these learners and to create an environment that promotes more learning opportunity for all students, and;
4. To help regular education administrators and teachers understand the learner’s disability and educational needs, that may include assistive technology, by promoting effective use of technology, instruction methods and strategies in the classroom and throughout the school and in the community.

Meeting the Challenges of Low Incidence Disabilities:

The Special Education Policy Section of the Minnesota Department of Education has partnered with Directors of Special Education and School Districts since 1981 to support and implement Regional Low Incidence Projects for this population. These projects are designed to minimize the impact of regional geographical and population disparities throughout Minnesota by committing a significant amount of federal and state funding toward improving programming, staffing, communications and professional development to benefit learners with low incidence disabilities.

There are eight regional projects in Minnesota. Each region employs a Regional Low Incidence Facilitator (RLIF) who oversees the low incidence projects and coordinates the activities within the region. In addition, there are specialists employed in each disability area providing consultant services and/or direct service to parents, teachers, administrators and learners throughout Regions 5 & 7. Each disability area has a planning team that meets regularly and plans programming for learners and training for teachers, paraprofessionals, parents and other stakeholders during the year. The planning teams consist of the various disability consultants, teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders. These teams plan activities that educate and communicate to the community the importance of early identification of children in need of special education services. They also work to assist parents and others with referrals to available school and community resources; they promote family and recreational activities and work with educators to assure that appropriate specialized and academic instruction is in place. Ultimate responsibility for the provision of low incidence services to students rests with the school districts as required by state and federal laws, however, the financial and human resources attained through the Low Incidence Projects enable local school districts to meet the needs of these learners more efficiently and equitably throughout the regions and state.

Participating School Districts and Agencies:

The North Central Service Cooperative (NCSC), located in Staples is the host agency for the Low Incidence Project in Regions 5 & 7. The regions include twenty-five (25) counties and 65 independent school districts and cover 11,813 square miles. The total student public school enrollment for both regions is 133,633. There are 18,263, students aged birth to twenty-one years of age identified as having a disability, including 5,263 of them identified as low incidence learners. When comparing school age students, ages five to eighteen years of age, students with disabilities make up about 12% of the total school population. Learners with Low incidence disabilities comprise less than 4% of the total school population. Earl Mergens is the Regional Low Incidence Facilitator (RLIF) for Regions 5 & 7. There are 15 local Directors of Special Education located in special education cooperatives and/or school districts throughout the two regions. A list of participating school districts and special education cooperatives can be obtained by calling the NCSC Office in Staples at (218) 894-5462.

Contacting Low Incidence Personnel or Accessing Services:

School personnel, parents or other stakeholders may access low incidence services or attain additional information by contacting any of the specialists listed below. Local school district administrators and/or special education staff will also be able to assist in identifying appropriate contacts.

• Regional Low Incidence Facilitator Earl Mergens (218) 894-5462
• Assistive Technology Barb Lhotka (320) 286-2129
• Autism Spectrum Disorder Audra Wells (763) 241-3471
• Blind/Visually Impaired Doreen Bohm (320) 252-2231
Ext. 3115
• Developmentally Cognitively Delayed Barb Lhotka (320) 286-2129
• Deaf-Blind Nicole Schmidt (218) 205-3533
• Deaf/HH Jann Schmidt (763) 389-6084
• PHD/OHD/TBI Erin Dohrmann (763) 689-3600
• Special Education Coordinators Laurie Osterman (320) 352-6120
Ext. 21

Regional Staff Development

Regional Comprehensive System of Personnel Development Project

The Regional Comprehensive System of Personnel Development Project provides for the effective planning and implementation of training activities to meet the region-wide needs of educators, parents and other professionals in providing quality education for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.