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The District 65 School Board considered two proposed changes to the Board’s policies on Feb. 25, each of which could have significant ramifications. One policy could shift more control over programmatic changes to the School Board. Another could restrict the circumstances in which an Individual Education Program (IEP) for a student with a disability could be altered.

For more than a year now, Board member Richard Rykhus has been urging that the Board adopt a policy that would address a concern he says has recurred in three of the last four summers.

Four summers ago, Mr. Rykhus says the IEPs of certain students provided they would be placed in a diagnostic kindergarten, but over the summer administrators told them they were changing the delivery model and they would need to come back and have their IEPs changed. Two summers ago, Mr. Rykhus says the IEPs of certain students provided they would be in the Bridges program, but during the summer they were told they would not be in that program, and then later still they were told they would be in the Bridges program. Last summer, after school was out, Mr. Rykhus says kindergarten through third-grade students in the Emotional Disability (ED) program at Lincolnwood School were told the ED program would be moving to Kingsley.

At the Board’s Feb. 25 meeting, Mr. Rykhus said, “We want to make sure that parents have a place at the table [when IEP changes are made] and that changes are not made because there’s a change in the service delivery model but because it is in the best interest of the child.”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said there was a disagreement about what had occurred, and he did not feel there was a recurring issue that needed to be addressed. He added that he felt the Board’s policies concerning changes to IEPs complied with the law, and there was no need to amend the policies.

On Jan. 16, the Board’s Policy Committee approved in concept two policies, one requiring the District to plan for programmatic changes before the school year ended, and another to address the concerns raised by Mr. Rykhus. The Committee asked Dr. Murphy to draft the policies.

Dr. Murphy said he drafted the policies, with input from the District’s attorney. Those policies were presented to the full Board on Feb. 25 without prior review by the Policy Committee.

Proposed Policy re Programmatic Changes

The first proposed policy, which was recommended by Dr. Murphy, provides:

“Programmatic changes shall be made in a timely fashion and planned during a school year for implementation in the following year unless, due to extenuating circumstances, it is determined that it is in the best interests of students to make changes during a school year or over the course of the summer and before the start of the next school year. Prior to implementation, the board will be informed of programmatic changes including rationale, benefits, the planning process, and the evaluation methodology.”

Mr. Rykhus said, “I think this is heading in the right direction.” But, he proposed several amendments, including that a time limit, such as March 31, be specified as the time by which a programmatic change be decided upon. In addition, rather than just informing the Board about a programmatic change before it is implemented, he proposed that the Board must “approve” the change.

Katie Bailey said if the policy provided that Board approval was required to implement a programmatic change, the Board could withhold its approval if it felt the programmatic change was not properly planned. She suggested that a March 31 deadline not be included. Mr. Rykhus, Tracy Quattrocki and Eileen Budde said they could go along with that.

Andy Pigozzi asked if there was a definition of what constituted a “programmatic change.” He said one could argue that a lot of things constituted a programmatic change and this needed to be defined.

The issue was tabled to give the Policy Committee an opportunity to draft a definition of “programmatic change.” The Board is scheduled to look at it again on March 18.

Proposed Policy on Changing IEPs

The second proposal would add this language to Board Policy 6:120:

“Once determined by an IEP team, decisions regarding placements as well as the nature and amount of services and supports will not be altered unless the IEP team reconvenes with the parents and determines that new program, service, resource, facility, or method of service delivery has become available in the District and that it is determined said services and/or programs better appropriately meet the individual needs of the child.”

At a June 18 Board meeting Dr. Murphy had previously opposed amending Policy No. 6:120, and on Feb. 25 he opposed this amendment, which he said he drafted in consultation with the District’s lawyer. He said the District’s lawyer opined that “this language is not necessary insofar as the District’s actions are guided by statutory requirements for appropriately meeting the needs of students with disabilities.” Dr. Murphy added, “Amending the policy may have the unintended consequences of increasing the District’s legal liability and precipitate litigation.”

Eileen Budde asked if the proposed language states the law. Dr. Murphy said he was “not sure if the language tracks the language of the law precisely.” Ms. Bailey also said she would like to know if the proposed amendment is consistent with the law.

On a different note, while intending to address a specific concern raised by Mr. Rykhus, the proposed amendment may have much broader implications. On its face, it would appear to preclude the District from changing any IEP unless a “new” program or other service “has become available in the District” and it is determined that that program or other service better meets the individual needs of the child. Hypothetically, given the wording of the amendment, a child’s IEP could not be changed to provide for additional minutes for co-teaching or to provide for any other additional services unless the change was connected to a “new” program in the District.

The Board tabled consideration of this proposed policy change until the March 18 Board meeting. It is anticipated that the Board’s attorney may be asked to attend.

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...