Should Oak Park create a therapeutic day school within District 97 to allow it to keep more students from outside placements? The district’s special ed director says yes, and the school board is open to the concept.

Michael Padavic, the special ed director, presented his annual special ed report to the school board Aug. 24.

Part of the discussion included the prospect of creating a day school within the district, as well as an early childhood center. About 60 kids are currently placed outside the district, Padavic said.

A Dist. 97 therapeutic day school, Padavic said, would allow the district to provide certain services that those kids are currently getting elsewhere.

The special ed director suggested this proposal could be included as part of the tax referendum the district will pursue next April. Along with a day school, Padavic also suggested creating an early childhood center in the district.

The board was generally supportive of both ideas but had questions about how much each would cost.

Board President Peter Traczyk said the district should try and service its own kids, but that the costs for a day school, and a childcare center, would need to be clearly spelled out for voters.

“Providing services within the district-there are obvious benefits,” Traczyk said. “We are going to run our referendum in the spring. I’m not afraid of asking Oak Parkers, if we can give numbers. If you want to dream big, I would support that as a factor within our referendum sizing, if that’s something that the board wants to support.”

The board has laid out a timeline for its referendum campaign. Later this fall, the board will meet to discuss its levy options for the referendum.

In related special ed news, Padavic noted that the district currently spends around $10 million on special education, a number that has increased in recent years.

Padavic in his presentation also addressed the issue of black students, and especially males, disproportionately identified as “emotionally disturbed” (ED) compared to the rest of the student population. It’s been an issue the district has faced for the last several years.

The state tracks the disproportionality of black students as ED in special education throughout Illinois’ school districts.

The state in 2007 found that a black student in Dist. 97 was four times more likely than any other student to be identified as “emotionally disturbed.” That number has decreased slightly since then but Padavic, who was hired as special ed director last year, maintained that he’s aware of that history and it is something the district continues to watch.

“This is an area we want to keep track of; the number of African American students referred for evaluations and whether they’re placed in special education,” he said. “If you remember, three or four years ago the district was named in terms of our disproportionality. One area was over-identification of students with severe cognitive disabilities and the other area was African American males as emotionally disturbed.

“I’m very aware of that,” Padavic said, “and hopefully with RTI (Response to Intervention) and some of the other programs we’re implementing in the school year, hopefully, our referral numbers will drop.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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