At the tail-end of the District 65 School Board meeting on Jan. 19, Board members and administrators said that in adopting the inclusion plan on Nov. 30, 2009, no decision was made to close Park School. They said placement decisions for students with a disability will be made on an individual student-by-student basis in the process of developing an Individual Education Program, IEP, for each student.
Board member Kim Weaver opened the discussion, saying, “I want to make sure we alleviate the fears of the parents and the other people in our community about Park School closing. I’m confident that none of us on the Board voted for it to close, and yet there’s a lot of misinformation out there about that.”
Bonnie Lockhart said the January 2010 edition of District 65’s publication, “For the Record” says, “The District’s inclusion plan does not call for the closing of Park School. It does not call for broad and sweeping changes of programs and students. It does not call for the elimination of jobs.” She added, “I think we have said this.”
Katie Bailey said, “I think there are remaining questions that continue to be out there, and I think we need to respect that. You look at the spectrum of special education and there’s a large difference in the needs for some children compared to others, and parents are concerned and rightly so.”
She asked the administration, “Is Park School still open to out-of-district students?” Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “Yes.”
This was an issue that Dr. Murphy raised at the Board’s Dec. 14 meeting. Anticipating that there might not be any District 65 kindergartners placed in Park School next year, he asked Board members how to address a potential question about whether Park School would accept kindergartners next year who did not reside in School District 65. At that time, the consensus among Board members was, “That hasn’t been determined yet.”
Dr. Murphy’s answer at the Jan. 19 meeting indicates that Park School will be open to out-of-district students next year.
Katie Bailey and Kim Weaver next asked, “Have we changed any policies around children being admitted to Park School?” Dr. Murphy said, “No.”
In explaining the roll-out of the inclusion program at a Nov. 30 Board meeting and how it might impact Park School, Dr. Murphy said next year the District would take a closer look at pre-K and kindergarten students who are possible candidates for Park School and that the District would “actively try to find spots where, with supports, those students can benefit from inclusion in some of our neighborhood or attendance-area schools. … And it could mean that at least for District  students, fewer of those students will be entering Park School.”
At that meeting, Dr. Murphy said that under the inclusion plan, Park School would not be the same in the future as it is today. “It [the inclusion plan] absolutely means that in the future there would at least be a transformation where we don’t need all the classrooms we have at Park School.”
How the inclusion plan will impact the enrollment at Park School next year at the kindergarten level will not be known until the IEP meetings for incoming kindergartners are completed. At the Jan. 19 Board meeting, Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked if any students in the incoming kindergarten class had been assigned to Park School.
Margie Lenoir-Davis, interim director of special services, responded, “We are looking at students in the SPAAC program [a pre-K program serving students with disabilities] who are preparing for kindergarten and as they go to the IEP table, they will … talk about what the progress has been, and then they discuss what are the needs of the student, and then we go into the discussion how can we provide service for those students.”
She said those IEP meetings are ongoing and she could not say if any incoming kindergarten student has been recommended for Park School for the coming year. Last year Park School had four kindergarten students who resided within the boundaries of District 65.
When asked if any decisions had been made with respect to students currently attending Park School, Ms. Lenoir-Davis said, “The IEP teams at various schools will have to look at each student individually and really focus in on what are the service needs for each child to be continually successful. As they do that, as they go to the table, they will consider the possible options to receive their services and still be able to be successful and progress in the manner they need to, and they will look at what are the supports that are needed, and whether or not those supports can be made available in a school other than Park or whether or not they are so intensive that we, at this time, are not able to duplicate those services other than at Park School.”