Nine-year-old Seth is like a lot of boys his age. Playing a game of Nerf Darts is high on his list of priorities.
But for Seth's mom, her priority is making sure he gets the education he needs.
"He's supposed to receive 25 minutes twice a week for his speech," said Brittany Jewell, Seth's mother.
Seth has a mild form of autism and has been taking speech therapy classes in the Tomah School District since he was diagnosed six years ago. But this year, the school district can't offer him, or about 100 other students, services because they don't have enough speech language pathologists.
"It's very difficult for us to have to tell them, we're sorry," said Cindy Zahrte, Tomah School District superintendent. "We just don't have the people-power to assist at this time."
To help find a solution to the critical SLP shortage, the Tomah School Board asked the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to consider helping solve the problem at a state level since the shortage is a state-wide issue. The proposed solution involves changing the licensure laws to allow for an assistant-level position for people with a bachelors degree along with additional training.
"To me it seems like it's just a win-win-win," said John McMullen, Tomah School Board President. "If we could develop another tier of providers. The students desperately need it. It would help them if we could get more access. It would certainly help the school districts."
But not everyone is in support of creating an assistant-level position. The Wisconsin Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Association, the professional organization that represents the people who hold these masters degree-level jobs, is asking its members to oppose the idea.
I contacted the agency and they released this statement which in part says... "A Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Disorders is not sufficient to work semi-independently in the field of speech-language pathology... Creating a licensure pathway with for an unqualified provider is not the best solution."
"I don't necessarily take issue with that statement," said McMullen. "I don't have the expertise and I'm not going to argue with them about those qualifications. I just wish we could get beyond that point. And I think we should be able to because other states apparently have been able to."
As a matter of fact, 19 states already allow people with a bachelors degree to work as SLP support personnel.
"It's at least worthy of discussion," said McMullen. "And I wish the Wisconsin Association would come to the table and try to discuss some of this."