Assignment: Education – SLP Shortage Part 1

Tomah School District struggles to provide speech therapy.

When playing an action-packed game of Nerf Darts, 9-year-old Seth knows when to say, “Get that bullet!”

But those words didn’t always come easily for the Miller Elementary School student.

“He’s been to the point where he was non-speaking,” said Brittany Jewell, Seth’s mother. “He couldn’t talk at all. Everything was just eh, eh, eh.”

Seth was diagnosed with a mild form of autism at the age of three. He was enrolled in the Tomah School District soon after his diagnosis and began receiving services for his special needs.

“He’s received occupational therapy, and he’s received speech and language and he had an LD teacher for learning disabilities as well,” said Brittany.

Brittany says her son has made huge gains with the help of the school district, but Seth’s team of teachers knew he still needed some special services.

“He’s supposed to receive 25 minutes twice a week for his speech, and his LD stuff is every day,” said Brittany.


But this year, the Tomah School District isn’t able to provide him with speech therapy.

“I received a letter… I want to say it was 2-3 weeks into the school district (year), stating that they did not have enough speech and language pathologists to have for all the children in the school district,” said Brittany. “And Seth was not in such a significant need of it. So, that he would not be receiving those services.”

The school district was forced to send that letter to a little more than 100 students’ families who were supposed to get speech therapy this year.

“It’s very difficult for us to have to tell them we’re sorry. We just don’t have the people-power to assist at this time,” said Cindy Zahrte, Tomah School District superintendent.

The Tomah School District currently has two open positions for SLPs. Because they are understaffed, the Director of Pupil Services Paul Skofronick says they knew they couldn’t serve all of their students. So, they decided to help those with the greatest needs.   

“So, we went through all hundreds of these students individually, one-by-one, and made those decisions, said Skofronick. “It was one of the most difficult decisions that the team ever had to make. And, like I said, a lot of tears were involved.”

The district is not able to provide speech services to about half of the students who need therapy, and Seth is one of them. So, now his Mom is taking him to private therapy lessons which in her opinion is less than ideal.

“My frustration is the fact that I have to take him out of school to do this where he’s missing all these things that he needs,” said Brittany. “The whole purpose of having those programs in the school district, for not just my son but for every child, is that that way they don’t have to be pulled out of school. They can have those services there. They can learn it there.”

And while Seth wasn’t able to dodge this bullet, there may be many more students in the same situation if something isn’t done.

“We do have a shortage in Tomah,” said Skofronick. “We are not the only district in the state. We’re not the only district in the Coulee Region that has a shortage. This is an ongoing problem. This has been in existance for many, many years. It will be in existance, unless things change, for many more years.”