School For Autistic Children Breaks Ground in Blaine

Updated: 07/21/2013 1:01 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

Autism school is being built in Blaine.
Autism school is being built in Blaine.

Photo: MGN Online
Photo: MGN Online

A new specialized school is breaking ground in the north metro.

Karner Blue will be specifically equipped for children with autism of emotional and behavioral issues.

The public elementary, which is being built along Interstate 35W and 95th Street in Blaine, will serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the Intermediate School District 916.

The $16 million school is scheduled to open next year. Enrollment is by referral only. Parents can't openly enroll their child.

The need for such a school is there. The Minnesota Department of Education says there are nearly 16,000 students in the state with autism.

For many, the typical school setting isn't the right fit.

"It's such a unique school, built with the needs of students in mind," said Karner Blue Principal Val Rae Boe.

For starters, the school will cut down noise and other distractions that can trigger trouble. Plus it'll have shorter hallways. On the blueprint, the hallways are curved instead of straight like you'd find in a typical school.

There are smaller classrooms too. The average class size will be six to eight students, with a two to one ratio - for every two students there'll be one staff member.

That's unheard of in mainstream schools. Within each room, there'll be a social worker, autism specialist, speech therapist and mental health expert. Strategically placed windows and natural light instead of fluorescent lights will be installed.

Traditional fire alarms will be replaced with flashing strobe lights. 

School officials expect that some 400 students from 10 areas in the north metro will benefit. 

On average, the cost runs anywhere from $35 to $50,000 per student, per year for this type of school. About half that money is reimbursed by the state.

The specialized school will be one of three in the state. They're created to help share resources and costs for highly specialized programs.

To critics who question the high costs and low student-to-teacher ratio, one parent of an autistic child passionately responds, "We want to continue to have our children in schools amongst other children for the social environment and peer relationships."