“I’m Glad You Asked . . .” The Top-5 Questions People Ask the Marathon County CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION BOARD

Written by Dr. Kelly Kapitz

Did you ever have a teacher say:

“If one student in this room asks me a question, probably several others have the very same question”?

Well, with this new series — “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” — we’re bringing the questions to YOU, no hand-raising required.

It’s part of our commitment to be open, honest, and communicative about the topics that Marathon County leadership and staff get comments and questions on the most.

This month’s “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” article features:

The Top-5 Questions People Ask the Marathon County CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION BOARD

A student and his father attending the Marathon County Special Education (MCSE) Department’s “Spring Games” (MCSE’s version of the Special Olympics).

#1. How did the Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board BEGIN?  


The Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board was established in January 1958 when state law required that children in every county in Wisconsin have access to special education services. In that era, only students with the most significant educational needs were served, and only 2 types of disability services were provided:

  • Intellectual
  • Speech/language

Since special education was a relatively new endeavor, counties were to work with all of the school districts in their respective jurisdiction to coordinate services. That meant, that when the Board was created in 1958, there were 3 teachers and 1 school psychologist to provide services to 10 schools in Marathon County.

As the decades rolled by, federal and state laws and funding structures substantially changed, providing more dollars directly to schools for students with disabilities. Gradually, individual schools began to coordinate their own services and to administer their own programs.

In 2019, 6 schools continue to be served under a County-level special education model:

  • Abbotsford
  • Athens
  • Edgar
  • Marathon
  • Rosholt
  • Spencer

These small rural districts have decided to continue under a County-based model to maximize personnel and financial resources, thereby assuring that each school and student is able to receive a free appropriate public education, as required by law. It is 1 of only 4 County models still in existence in Wisconsin.

Today, Marathon County Special Education serves over 450 students with disabilities, has a staff of over 100, and provides services to students in 13 different categories of educational need.

The majority of the funding for Marathon County Special Education comes directly from the 6 rural school districts who participate in the County’s program. Smaller portions of money come from state categorical aid and from federal flow-through dollars. Districts also capture Medicaid money to offset the cost of providing programs and services.

#2. What can FAMILIES expect if their child is found to have a disability? 


Parents and families can expect that a professional team will work cooperatively with them to develop a comprehensive Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for their child. Families can also expect that necessary services will be provided by highly qualified staff, which may include professionals such as:

  • Special education teachers
  • Occupational and physical therapists
  • Audiology specialists
  • Nursing staff

Parents can also expect that every professional working with the student will be compassionate, patient, and outcome orientated. We’re proud to report that 98% of MCSE students graduate with a regular diploma.

Marathon County Special Education has also been a leader in assisting all students with disabilities to not only learn the skills needed to succeed in school, but also to plan and to prepare students for life after high school. Beginning at age 14, students and their families work with a combination of professionals — including district guidance counselors, special education teachers, and outside agencies (when appropriate) to get students ready for life outside the high school walls.

Students have opportunities for job shadowing, post-secondary education visits, and career exploration. Families are also connected with agencies to help with guardianship issues, if appropriate.

Marathon County Special Education works hand-in-hand with a wide variety of agencies to help students have the greatest opportunity for a successful and fulfilling life following high school.

#3. Why are schools NOT GEOGRAPHICALLY WITHIN Marathon County served?


When the Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board was established, some schools had a portion of their population within its boundaries. For instance, Abbotsford has townships within Marathon County, but the school district itself is actually situated in Clark County. In 1958, schools could choose which county to receive services from, and they elected Marathon County. We have successfully served these schools for 60 years with a tradition of educational excellence for all children.

Janine Wood, Early Childhood Teacher, working with students in the Edgar School District.

It might be possible for additional rural schools to receive services from Marathon County Special Education; however, the current funding mechanism makes that very unlikely in 2019.

Area schools often do share services, though, such as those for students who are deaf or hard of hearing or those who have significant emotional or behavioral disabilities. Marathon County schools and the Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board have excellent working relationships and collaborate frequently.

#4. Can PRIVATE SCHOOLS receive services from Marathon County Special Education?  


Yes. Based on federal and state law, private-school students are eligible to receive some type of special education services. The types of services students can receive are discussed annually and vary by school district.

Students in private schools are under the educational umbrella of the public school in which the private school is located. For example, St. Marys’ Catholic School in Marathon City is under the Marathon School District educational umbrella.

Cross-Categorial Teacher Stephanie Miller provides instruction to a student at Marathon Area Elementary School.

If a child was referred for special education services and found to be eligible, he or she would receive an Individual Service Plan (ISP) outlining the services that student would receive. These services are provided at NO COST to the private school or the student’s family. Students with disabilities who attend private schools may remain at the private school for their education if the family and the private school believe that it is in the best interest of the child.

#5. How is Marathon County Special Education different or the same as a Cooperative Educational Service Association (CESA)?  


Marathon County Special Education (MCSE) is like a CESA in that we provide a host of services for students with disabilities, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, school psychologists, and a director of special education support. However, MCSE only provides special education and related services to its members. A CESA provides schools with other ancillary services (like grant writing, regular education professional development, and administrative training and support) that do not fall under the mission of the Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board. Both organizations are dedicated to providing high-quality services to students, their families, and the schools.

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If you’d like to learn more about the services and dedicated professionals of Marathon County Special Education, I invite you to visit our website or watch the short video below.


Finding out your child has a disability can feel like you’ve suddenly found yourself on a long and hard road, but Marathon County Special Education has been down that road before — with hundreds upon hundreds of local families over the past 60 years.

We’ll be with you every step of the way as we work to provide a high-quality educational experience that will help maximize every child’s potential.

KellyKapitzKelly Kapitz, PhD

Director  |  Marathon County Special Education Department

Dr. Kelly Kapitz has been involved in rural education for over 30 years. She began her career as a school psychologist and later entered administration as a Director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the Marathon County Special Education Department. She received her PhD in Education Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her dissertation and particular area of interest is transition services to students with disabilities. She has served on several state and local taskforces related to providing high-quality educational services to rural students. Dr. Kapitz serves on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services. She and her husband have three children and enjoy tending their apple orchard and traveling. Email Dr. Kelly Kapitz.

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