La Crosse County ends special needs students’ after-school program partnership

A program that helps students with special needs is expected to come to an end after La Crosse County Human Services issued a 60-day notice. The agency decided to end a partnership with the organization “Coulee Connections” at the beginning of February which left families scrambling.

Coulee Connections is one of the providers of the Comprehensive Community Services or CCS program, which helps kids with special needs work with their support systems. About 50 kids and their families are involved in the after-school programming.

“We put a lot of intention helping kids come in and work those social skills,” said Matt Tepper, a program director for Coulee Connections.

Many of the kids aren’t able to go to other after-school groups because of their behavioral needs or other issues.

“Our job there is to help them get back to those natural supports within the community,” Tepper said.

With afternoon and evening support on the weekdays, and special events on Saturday, the kids move through 10 week quarters. In these units, the organization uses therapy and facilitation between the student and family members so they can accomplish tasks like school work or calming down after an emotional period.

“We try to help parents figure out how both sides that circle,” said Rob Van Nuland, executive director of Coulee Connections.

Ashley Wire’s 13-year-old son and 8-year-old twin boys have been in the program since October.

“It’s helped bring more structure, stability in my home. As well as help with parenting them and understanding their behaviors and what’s causing them,” Wire said.

Which is why she was angry and frustrated to find out that the program may come to an end.

Coulee Connections was notified via email that the county, which provides funding and referrals to the organization,would be ending their three-year partnership.

“We did not receive any explanation as to why,” Van Nuland said.

Now, staff members are working with social workers and the families to try a suitable alternative.

“A lot of work gets done with the children here kind of helping them wrap up relationships that they’ve built with one another,” Van Nuland said.

While the program aimed to help children navigate the ups and downs of life, some were not prepared for this.

“[We’re] hoping we can keep with Coulee [Connections]. If not, it’s going to be a struggle and a very big change. And basically starting from the bottom,” Wire said.

In a statement to News 8, the La Crosse County Human Services office did not specific why the decision was made to end the partnership. However, director Jason Witt said case managers are working with those affected to transition to other CCS providers.