What was billed as an informational meeting to explain the inclusion plan to Park School parents on Dec. 15 turned out to be an organized protest by those parents to what they perceive to be a decision that will effectively close Park School over a period of time. See accompanying story on page 26.

More than one-hundred parents and teachers turned out at the meeting held at the Joseph E. Hill administration building. After Park School parents made an organized, sometimes emotional, presentation to retain Park School as it currently exists, Superintendent Hardy Murphy essentially ended the meeting by suggesting that the discussions continue at a later date to give the administration an opportunity to digest what was said.

“We have to take everything they have said into consideration,” Dr. Murphy told the RoundTable.

Melissa Little, a 17-year Park School parent, said the inclusion plan approved by the Board has “devastating implications” for students at Park School. “We want them to be part of society as much as they can be included. But forcing them into a regular school setting doesn’t ‘include them’ just because they are there for art and lunch. They learn in special and individual ways.”

Several parents described the disabilities and challenges their children face. One parent said her son was deaf and blind, and the only way to communicate with him was through tactile communication. Her son became tactile-defensive, though, a fear of being touched. He has to be fed through a feeding tube; he has a shunt in his brain; and he has a cervical spine disability.

The mother said the consistency and continuity of care her son receives at Park School is critical and “it cannot be duplicated anywhere else. … It’s a family. I cannot say enough about Park School. This is the least restrictive environment for my son.”

Patti Rohwer, a Park School parent and a teacher in an inclusion classroom in another school district, said her daughter has multiple difficulties, including a difficulty in communicating through expressive language and an inability to understand danger. She said her daughter needs consistency and access to specialized therapy on a daily basis, and that in a general education setting, her daughter would lack the consistency that exists at Park, where “the staff know precisely how to work within her limitations.” Ms. Rohwer said her daughter would also receive less support and only half of the therapy hours she receives at Park.

“My daughter is ‘less restricted’ at Park than she would be in her attendance area school, ‘clustered’ in a single room at the end of the hall with a few others who, like her, would not understand the lesson content and would be a constant distraction to the regularly developing kids,” Ms. Rohwer told the RoundTable. “In an ‘inclusion’ setting she would have to be isolated from her non-special education peers to avoid distracting them. To pull her out of a community of learners to place her in a ‘cluster classroom’ would be far more ‘restrictive’ than her present placement at Park.

“I believe that there is a balance between the least restrictive and most supportive environment,” Ms. Rohwer continued. “For every student this ‘balance point’ is different. In the case of my daughter, Park School provides the ‘most supportive’ environment. It is the ‘least restrictive’ environment where she can still obtain an appropriate education. …It is essential to have Park as a choice for students who require specialized educational support, and daily access to a pool of therapists, educators, equipment and facilities under one roof.”

“There is no ‘typical’ Park School student,” said Ms. Little. “Each one is individually challenged with not one, but by layers of disabilities that change, and require the environment to change with them.”

Ms. Little said the resources available at Park School could not possibly be duplicated to serve students spread out over many of the District’s schools to the degree they are available at Park School. She listed some of the needs addressed at Park School: ADA compliance; adequate nursing support; trained and experienced staff; privacy for toileting; equipment resources; related services such as speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy; teachers trained to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Park School parent Barry W. Minerof gave a stirring, emotional speech which drew several standing ovations. “Our children,” he said, “are in general those considered severely disabled, profoundly disabled. … Each parent in this room, I’m sure, started out with the same hopes and dreams for their special child. Dreams of good health, marriage, happiness, that they may have children someday, that they would enjoy the best life that we can give them. Well, one by one we had to give some of those things up. Not be because we don’t want them. Not because we are too lazy. Not because they aren’t what we still wish for. We have given them up because they are not reality. Our special children are just that, special. Unique. They have needs that are different from our other children.

“Every one of us wanted and many tried to have their child ‘included’ with their regular peers in a typical setting. It was usually painful and heartbreaking when we realized that it wasn’t going to work in our cases, in this District, in this reality. We did not rush to Park school with glee. We found a safe haven of love, education and safety where our children could be educated in the least restrictive environment for their particular situations.

“The process of giving up your dreams for what you imagined would be the future of your child is something that only a parent or caregiver of a special needs child can understand. No amount of empathy or education can ever come close to the thoughts that we on this side of the table feel and have felt for a long time. Imagine the twisted thought process that somehow wishes that your child passes away before you do, but hopefully not before they’ve had a good long life, because you are afraid of what will happen to them after you are gone and don’t want to place that burden on your ‘able’ children and don’t trust society to take on that responsibility.

“We are not a group that needs the District to wake up one day and decide that the time is right for inclusion, with experts guiding the process down a path of destruction of the one place we have found where our kids are receiving what they need. A glimmer of light in a difficult world: Park School.”

In summing up the presentation by Park School parents, Ms. Little said, “We are not asking that the whole inclusion plan be dropped. There are wonderful goals and strategies that need to be implemented. We are asking that both ends of the spectrum be allowed to exist to fully serve all the students in this community. There needs to be this end of the continuum – a dedicated, self-contained Park School to serve the most severe and profound that can’t be replicated in a general education environment.”

Park School

Park School focuses on the needs of students, aged 3-21, who have severe and profound learning and or physical challenges. This year, 36 students attend the school at the preprimary through eighth grade. An additional 36 students attend at ninth grade and above.The school is funded jointly by School Districts 65 and 202. Some special education students from other school districts attend the school; these other school districts pay the cost of educating their studetns.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...