With support of the District 64 Board of Education school administrators are moving ahead with their plan to expand special education programming in the upcoming 2020-21 school year.
During a special meeting on April 27, the School Board gave unanimous support behind the new Structured Learning Community (SLC) program. It will open in August and allow District 64 to educate up to eight students who might otherwise be placed in programs outside of district boundaries. Currently 5.3 percent of students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are outplaced in District 64; the recommended state target is 3.9 percent.
“By expanding our continuum of services we can support the unique needs of our students within the district,” said Director of Student Services Lea Anne Frost. “This would have several advantages, the most important of which is inclusion with other students in their home district.”
Currently, some of these students are in facilities without general education peers. As they learn new and improved skills, they do not have a typical setting in which to practice. That will change with the start of the expanded program.
Another advantage would be the collaboration among therapists including, but not limited to, speech, social work, occupational and physical therapy all working to serve student needs from one facility.
The goals are to develop opportunities for students to have integrated activities with general education peers both academically and socially. Staff will work to maximize students’ independence and socially appropriate functioning in the school, their home and their community.
The SLC program will be housed in a classroom within newly renovated Washington Elementary School. The classroom, designed to have more structure but minimal sensory, audio and visual distractions, will feature areas for small group learning and individual work areas. Transportation will be made available to students and the district will consider requests to allow siblings of these students to attend Washington School.
Eligibility is based on evaluation by each student’s educational team. Parents would have the final say in whether the child is placed in the program.
The plan to start with one class with no more than 8 students. Dr. Frost explained to the School Board that this is just the first step in the SLC program. As students move up in grade levels, she anticipates additional classrooms will be added. The district will also evaluate the need to add this program at the preschool level and review data to support additional specialized programs and redevelopment of existing special education programs.
District committees have been studying ways to expand special education services in the district since the spring of 2018. A Special Education Advisory Committee and the Board’s PT3 Group (Parents and Teachers Talking Together) have led the discussions. Administrators also reached out to area districts and special education cooperatives for input and guidance. The SLC program was their choice among four different options.
While a community forum scheduled for April 2 was canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, district administrators collected feedback via an online form while presenting a video and Frequently Asked Questions document to explain the proposal and answer questions.