Searching and serving

A child undergoing an audio evaluation and assessment in 2003 by KCSOS audiologist Gaylord Short.

How the Search & Serve logo looks today.

When Congress passed Public Law 94-142 in 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), it authorized federal reimbursement to schools based on the number of students identified as having special needs and enrolled in special needs programs. As such, it raised a huge question, “how do we identify who those students are so we can get the federal funds to educate them?” The state provided an answer in 1977 mandating that counties join in a project known as “Search and Serve,”

Claude W. Richardson was superintendent of schools at the time. The office, along with Kern High and Bakersfield City school districts formed the county’s first three Search and Serve programs, which began operation on Oct. 10, 1977. Physically Exceptional and Health Services Director Ernest Strong  was given the responsibility of carrying it out for the office. He appointed Larry Keeter, now retired, as the first coordinator. Keeter continued to hold down the job of speech and hearing services coordinator at the same time.

Keeter and each of the Search and Serve programs coordinators was being asked to “identify and screen all individuals in the county, from three though age 21, who needed special education services, but who were not currently being served.”

“As the name implies, we had to search these people out, and it was kind of fun,” Keeter said. “It was a matter of getting the word out. We put ads in newspapers. I even went on TV a couple of times to publicize it. Once the parents discovered what we had, it opened the flood gates. But, not everyone understood our purpose. I got a call from an elderly couple telling me how grateful they were for the work we had done saving people in the Kern River. Turns out they thought we were Search and Rescue.”

Apparently, the word got out because more than 330 students were identified with special needs during the first year of Search and Serve’s existence (1977-78), according to a July 31, 1978 article carried in the office’s Staff News.

Several Search and Serve coordinators followed after Keeter’s one-year, pioneering effort. Darleen Jehnsen, who retired as the office’s Kern County Consortium SELPA director in 2007, after 41 years of service to special needs children, was the next to follow Keeter. Under changing department names and positions, Jehnsen remained associated with Search and Serve for most of the rest of her career.

“Kathy Ogden came to the county and I left the classroom to become specialists/educational diagnosticians,” Jehnsen said. “Our role was to do the Search and Serve duty of taking referrals, making presentations, following up on referrals, working with districts, doing educational testing and reporting and running the IEPs for the two teams of assessment personnel for district referred students,” Jehnsen said.

Today, the responsibility of the office’s Search and Serve program remains essentially the same. Parents who believe they have a child who may need special education can contact Search and Serve by calling (661) 636-4817 and receive help in either English or Spanish. Contacts are screened. Children are referred for evaluation and services to appropriate schools, agencies or other resources where assessment and recommendations are made. If needed, appropriate special education programs and/or services are recommended for the child.

Currently, Search and Serve is a part of the office’s SELPA, whose director is Greg Rhoten. Jennifer Acuna, as SELPA coordinator, oversees its operation. During the last school year, Search and Serve processed 1,991 referrals.

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