Special education students in District 97 should not be let out of school early before their regular education peers at the end of the school day, Supt. Constance Collins said last week in response to concerns raised by special education activists.

Oak Park’s Supported Education Association (SEA) claims that special education students were being let out of school before school was officially dismissed for the day, Collins said at the Dist. 97 Board of Education meeting last Wednesday.

Collins said she met with members of SEA two weeks, who requested the meeting with her and other administrators on the issue of early dismissal and on what the group called a “culture” in Dist. 97 of special education children being treated differently. The group also claimed that buses left early without some students on board.

SEA alleges that early dismissals of special education students have gone on even prior to Collins’ tenure, which is nearing the end of its first year. Collins replaced retiring Supt. John C. Fagan.

Collins said the district will begin monitoring early student dismissals periodically. Collins said she met with school principals on March 21 about the issue.

“We really need to be responsive to all of the children in the district,” said Collins. “We don’t want to leave any child out as we deal with this.”

Collins said the district would “monitor our compliance on departure times from the school to make sure we’re educating students in the amount of time that they should be educated.”

Collins said the district would provide ongoing feedback to SEA about changes in the culture. She added that the district was looking into creating a listserv where parents could send specific concerns to Kevin Anderson, asst. supt. for teaching and learning.

“I also indicated to the parents that I would periodically check with them to just say, ‘How is it going?'” said Collins. “Our main concern is what things are going well so that I know if we are making progress in the right direction.”

In addition, Collins said school principals and teachers would be made aware of the issue. She added that the district’s director of special services would act as an administrative liaison between SEA and district and that Sharon Patchak-Layman, the board of education’s liaison to SEA, would report on SEA’s monthly meetings to the board.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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