District meeting focuses on special education

Emily Wray

Emotions ran high as parents stepped to the podium to express their views on special education in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting. The release of an updated report on special education in the district became the starting point for a series of presentations on the frustrations and concerns of the parents of special needs students.

The new report was an update to a 2002 report on special education in District 65, in which Dr. Sandra Cole listed 19 recommendations for improvements to the program. The majority of presentations from the public at school board meeting concentrated on her arguments against segregating special needs students from the general education population, as well as the need for continuity in the student’s education from kindergarten through high school.

Continuity was a dominant theme in the public presentations. Jana Westover, a parent of a special-needs student, discussed her frustration with the lack of planning in the special education program. She said the teachers and staff at her son’s school do their best to support him, but the administration falls short in creating long-term plans.

“It’s difficult to see these already vulnerable children moved around each year,” Westover said. “The administration needs to make a plan, one that doesn’t force the parents to ask each year if and how it will change. Don’t force the special education program to fit into the cracks that are available for that upcoming year.”

Cari Levin, founding director of Evanston Citizens for Appropriate Special Education, used her allotted three minutes to discuss the organization’s goals for the future of special education in District 65. She emphasized the need for collaboration between stakeholders – specifically, parents of special needs students – and administrators in this area of education. She also said that she took issue with people who reprimanded parents for using litigation to address their concerns.

“Parents don’t use litigation as their problem-solving method of choice,” Levin said. “Litigation is a method of last resort.”

The presentations dominated the board meeting and elicited strong reactions from community members in the audience. Most speakers exceeded three minutes, despite repeated entreaties by board members to follow the rules, and some people teared up while reading their prepared speeches.

Following these presentations, Cole summarized her review of the 2002 report on special education. The review updated recommendations that she made in her earlier report for District 65’s special education program. According to the review, District 65 has made progress in 18 out of the 19 recommendations in the original Cole report.

“These are preliminary steps,” Cole said. “There’s no reason to believe District 65 will not continue to move forward to a unified system.”

Board members used Cole’s progress summary to emphasize the district’s progress, although they admit that the system isn’t perfect.

“This board has done some things right. We’ve moved the ball along,” said Keith Terry, president of the board. “We should celebrate the successes.”

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