By Terry Dean
Nearly 100 students taking special education classes in District 97 last year departed from the program and have been placed in general-ed classrooms.
The majority of those students were taking speech therapy. The students are no longer in special ed after meeting the goals in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP), says Mike Padavic, D97's director of special education.
Though no longer in special ed, those students will continue to be monitored and given support when needed, said Regina MacAskill, the district's assistant director for special ed.
In all, 95 students were dismissed from special ed. Typically, around 60 special ed students annually end up in general education classes, MacAskill said.
She noted, however, that special education students are in general-ed classes as part of their IEP, which usually entails having specific services, like speech therapy.
The data is part of the district's annual special education report, released last week.
Nearly 900 students were enrolled in special education for the 2012-2013 school year. Of those kids, 870 received services within the district. Students placed in out-of-district facilities last year totaled 50 or 5 percent of the overall special-ed population. That number has declined over the last six years, down from 69 in 2007-2008.
Students needing services that the district is unable to provide are typically placed out-of-district, MacAskill said. She stressed, however, that the district would like to keep every student within the district when possible.
Last year, D97 spent $2 million in out-of-district tuition costs, according to the report. That money is not paid by families but by D97, which receives an 80 percent reimbursement from the state.
The state also mandates school districts to serve students with special needs from neighboring private or parochial schools. Last year, D97 served 27 private/parochial students, up from 16 the previous school year.
D97 this year was hit with a 5 percent cut in federal special-ed funds due to the federal sequester cuts that took effect in January.
The district also continues to have a disproportionate number of black students in special ed, particularly black boys.
The state monitors disproportionality in all Illinois school districts. Districts with a high representation receive a warning from the state, and D97 has received such warnings twice in the last five years. The purpose, Padavic explained, is to make sure districts aren't unfairly shuffling black students through special ed.
Padavic said D97 has done an internal audit of its program, finding that students aren't being placed unfairly.