Aldermen vote to approve permit for special education high school


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) ruminates. Aldermen voted 7-1 to approve a special use permit for a special education high school, which would serve students with a variety of behavioral and emotional needs.t

Keerti Gopal, Reporter

Aldermen voted 7-1 at a City Council meeting on Monday to approve a special use permit for a special education high school in the 2nd Ward to accommodate students with behavioral and emotional needs.

The proposed public high school will be located at 1233-35 Hartrey Ave., about three blocks away from Evanston Township High School, and will serve students who have behavioral and emotional needs, according to council documents. The school will begin by enrolling about 22 students with the possibility of expanding to up to 40. With a student-to-faculty ratio of two to one, it will create 12 new jobs with potential for expansion.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the students who will attend the new school will include those who have previously been bussed out to schools in other districts to accommodate their needs. He added that the school’s goal is to bring students back into the Evanston community and facilitate a possible transition back to ETHS.

“The kids who would specifically go to this school are kids who are … mature enough and are on track to transition back into the high school,” Braithwaite told The Daily. “It’s sort of like a stepping stone.”

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who voted against the approval, said her concern was related to the school’s location in an industrial area.

In 2009, the city denied an application for a school in an industrial zone and was sued by the school. The city won the lawsuit, and Rainey said she is against the location because she feels it violates zoning policy.

“We absolutely caved in, and now we watered down the zoning ordinance,” Rainey said. “I’m almost embarrassed for us.”

Although the 2009 case was against zoning policy, council has since amended zoning policy to allow for a school in the industrial zone. Braithwaite said the school’s location — which includes a childcare center and services for adults and families on the autism spectrum — will be an asset, and said it is very different from the industrial surroundings of the previously denied school.

During public comment, several Evanston residents voiced their concerns with the new school. Darlene Cannon said she fears the school would disproportionately house students of color , pulling them away from ETHS and creating a divide in the community.

“What is it about these students that precludes them from being educated on campus? That’s what we can’t seem to get an accurate and precise answer for,” Cannon told The Daily. “They need to be in ETHS … so they can feel truly like they’re part of the ETHS community.”

Braithwaite said the demographic makeup of the school would be similar to that of ETHS, and noted that the 2nd Ward is the most racially diverse ward in Evanston. He added that the program would save costs in the long term, reducing the amount spent on bussing students to other cities.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th), who voted in favor of the permit’s approval, said the school was a better alternative to bussing students outside of Evanston.

“This is about giving the kids in our community the best opportunity they can get,” Wilson said. “When I think about it the message that we would send to them in sending them somewhere else as if it’s not our problem, that doesn’t feel good. These are members of our community and we should be looking out for them.”

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