In December 1957, St. Louis County voters passed a referendum establishing a local public school district to support the educational needs of children with disabilities. That vote – which effectively established SSD – was the net result of years of hard work and advocacy by parents of children whose educational needs were not being met by the existing public school system.
The district began humbly, with four teachers and a social worker serving 166 students in the fall of 1958.
The first students at SSD were taught in schools owned and operated by other school districts throughout the area. Soon, however, SSD began construction on several special education schools. The first of these, Ackerman School in Florissant, opened its doors to students in 1961. Today, SSD operates five special education schools – Ackerman, Litzsinger, Neuwoehner, Northview and Southview schools.
The 1960s also saw SSD move into the area of technical education – a mission separate from the district’s work in the special education field. SSD first began providing technical education in 1966. In the fall of 1967, the district opened the doors to South Technical High School. The following year, SSD opened North Technical High School in North St. Louis County.
Throughout the 1960s, SSD also built upon its special education programs, providing newer and better forms of education for students with learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
In the 1970s, federal and state legislators began to take seriously the issue of special education. This culminated in the 1975 passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which eventually evolved into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The 1975 law mandates a free and appropriate public education for all students, regardless of their disabilities. These laws have helped form the basis of the special education services provided by SSD to the present day.
As legislators locally and nationally grappled with special education and disability-related issues, SSD strove to keep up with local demand for education services for children and young adults with disabilities. In 1974, the district began to serve students with more profound disabilities. As a result, many of these students, some with multiple disabilities or medical fragility, were now being served in a school setting for the first time.
SSD also began educating preschool-aged children in 1976. The students served at the outset of this early childhood program were deaf or had hearing or vision impairment. By the end of the decade, a federal grant enabled the district to expand its early childhood offerings to meet the needs of children with various disabilities.
The early 1980s were marked by rising costs and decreasing revenues for SSD. In April 1986, voters overwhelmingly approved a tax levy increase for the district, allowing SSD to continue to grow and expand its program offerings.
In 1996, the Missouri legislature passed into law a change to the district’s governing structure, resulting in the creation of the Governing Council. The 22-member council, which includes a representative from each of the other St. Louis County public school districts, was established as an oversight committee to review and approve the district’s budget and strategic plans. In 1998, the Governing Council’s role expanded to include the election of the SSD Board of Education.
In November 2006, St. Louis County taxpayers voted to support Proposition S, a tax levy increase to allow SSD to continue growing its programs and services. In 2007, SSD celebrated both its 50th anniversary and the appointment of John C. Cary as its new superintendent of schools.
Today, SSD educates about 23,000 students with disabilities at sites throughout St. Louis County, including 265 public schools operated by the other 22 public school districts in St. Louis County. SSD also provides technical education to about 2,000 area high school students at the district’s two technical high schools and at other satellite locations.
|1957: SSD is established
1961: SSD opens first special education school (Ackerman School)
1966: SSD begins providing technical education
1967: South Technical High School opens
1968: North Technical High School opens
1974: SSD expands services to students with more profound disabilities
1976: SSD begins educating preschool-aged children
1986: Voters approve tax levy increase, allowing SSD to substantially expand programs
1996: SSD Governing Council is established
2007: SSD celebrates 50th anniversary