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D161 supports D843 placement for students with social, emotional disabilities

Summit Hill School District 161 officials set out to review plans to place students with social and emotional disabilities in a special education program at the Jan. 25 meeting.

In a 4-1 vote, school officials opted into a cooperative agreement with Lincoln-Way Area Special Education District 843’s Social Emotional Learning Foundations program for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Board vice president Stacey Borgens and board member Patricia Martin were absent. Board president Rich Marron cast the lone dissenting vote.

“Our students in [grades] one through five would be housed over at Mokena Elementary,” said Leslie DeBoer, director of special education. “The fourth- and fifth-graders would have access then to Mokena Intermediate School for any of their general education class experiences that they would need if deemed appropriate in their [Individualized Education Program].

“Our junior high students then would be housed at Hickory Creek for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, so those students would continue to have the general education exposure that they would need.”

DeBoer said she had a chance to do site visits and meet with the various administrators in these buildings to mull the district’s options.

“Our students at the junior high level—if we were to stay in our current position—they would start beginning to form relationships with students that would be going on to Lincoln-Way West,” she said. “Whereas students—if they are making those relationships with students at Hickory Creek—then they would all be going over to [Lincoln-Way] East together. We thought that was very important to keep those students together, rather than forming relationships with students that went beyond the other side of town in New Lenox there.”

District 843 declared Oster-Oakview would be a disqualified location for placement purposes.

District 161 currently has some students housed in classes at Liberty Junior High School for the SELF program, but that site poses its challenges, too.

“They are able to participate with the [general education] kids on site,” DeBoer said. “However, next year New Lenox [is] not going to have that open classroom at Liberty that the students would have to be shuttled everyday to and from for lunch and specials. That does take away from instructional time for those students.”

To this, DeBoer said the district should stay with the Lincoln-Way area cooperative for special education program placement.

“[During] both of the site visits, I was able to see the different layout of the programs where the classrooms would be,” she said. “They still would offer the isolation areas and it would be very private.

“The students would continue to have private entrances for

when they would be dropped off in the morning and picked up in the afternoon.”

DeBoer said school district officials reviewed their options carefully.

“We did take a look at housing the programs ourselves, but just with the amount of students that we have, we would have seven students moving forward,” she said. “Just the grade level spans are not feasible to have those programs in all of our buildings.”

Marron raised a concern for the grounds on which the recently renovated Oster-Oakview was disqualified and cautioned the idea of placing students in District 843’s special education district.

“The two places they’re going to house it now were available, and they were members of [District] 843,” he said. We were told…you don’t want to put this in a general education building. We really need to put this money out for Oster-Oakview. I understand [District] 122 left, and we have had difficulties maintaining the location, but it seems like [District] 843 has changed the story.”

But that’s not the whole story, Superintendent Barb Reins said.

‘The way [District 122] housed the program, it was spread throughout the building,” she said. “If a child needed a timeout, there wasn’t a lot of room in a … situation where that child had walked through in order to have the timeout, and that’s why they built that new location, Oster-Oakview, that’s unqualified.”

DeBoer sought to provide further clarification.

“I think just also with the enrollment trends also is now those buildings are able to have that additional room,” she said. “Now they’re just like us; projections have gone down. So, they have more space available. Back then when it was filled, enrollment was much higher.”

Marron said he couldn’t support District 843’s cooperative program, unlike District 122.

“There’s nothing that says the [District] 843 staff is going to be there next year,” he said, noting that changes in staffing could arise.

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