Bear Paw Cooperative

Bear Paw Cooperative
421 Ohio Street
P.O. Box 1449
Chinook, MT  59523
Office (406) 357-2269
Fax (406) 357-2517

Mission Statement

In collaboration with families, schools, and communities, 

the mission of the Bear Paw Cooperative is to 

educate and empower all students with disabilities 

beyond societal boundaries.

What is a Special Education Cooperative?

Montana has many small, rural school districts. The costs of providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities in these small districts can be overwhelming, and recruiting and retaining qualified special education staff can be very difficult. The special education cooperatives are designed to address these issues. There are currently twenty-one (21) special education cooperatives operating in Montana. A cooperative is made up of the school districts within the cooperative boundaries that choose to participate. The cooperative structure allows the school districts to pool the limited resources to employ special education staff that provide services to children on an itinerant basis. The staff typically employed by the cooperatives are the special education director, school psychologist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist and physical therapist. Several cooperatives also employ itinerant special education teachers. 

Adapted from the Montana Office of Public Instruction

What is Our History?

A special Thank You to Betty K. Finley, Secretary of the Bear Paw Cooperative from 1982 to 2007, for compiling the information from which this historical narrative is taken. 

In 1975, Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, also known as The Education for All Handicapped Children Act.  This ensured that all children with disabilities would "have a right to education, and to establish a process by which State and local education agencies may be held accountable for providing educational services for all handicapped children."  This law has been reauthorized several times, most recently in 2004 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  

With the passage of  P.L. 94-142, the first special education cooperative in our region was created and known as Northern Montana Regional Services.  It was based in the original library room of Chinook High School.

In 1977, the "Sunset Clause" phased out federal funding of regional service units and required school districts to become financially supporting members, through federal grants, of special education units.  At this point, Northern Montana Regional Services became known as the Bear Paw Learning Resource Center and was overseen by a "host" superintendent.  The first official Director of the Bear Paw Learning Resource Center hired in 1979 and, in the Fall of 1985, the Bear Paw Learning Resource Center became a special education cooperative under the supervision of its own governing board and was moved to the old Carnegie Library building, in which it remains to this day.

On May 21, 1987, the Bear Paw Cooperative was officially recognized by the Montana Office of Public Instruction as a special education entity.  We have grown from a staff of 1 secretary, 1 school psychologist, and 1 resource teacher in 1975, to a current staff of 1 director, 1 administrative assistant, and 1 business manager; 4 school psychologists; 5 speech-language pathologists; 2 itinerant special education teachers; 1 early childhood special education coordinator; 7 speech-language therapy assistants; a preschool screening team of 4; and contracted services for occupational therapy and physical therapy.

We take pride in the services we have provided for the past 49 years and look forward to continuing the delivery of quality educational services to the students, families, schools and communities of our region for the years to come.