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Even though there has been neither discussion nor decision by the District 202 Board of Education, the high school administration said last month that it would consider phasing out its commitment to Park School.
Park School on Main Street is the public school where severely and profoundly mentally and physically challenged students ages 3 to 21 find a stable and caring environment as they attempt to master the challenges of their very complex worlds.
State and local policies have contributed to the declining enrollment at Park. Many school districts have implemented inclusion programs that are designed to educate all students in their local schools and minimize outplacement. At the State level, the reimbursement for out-placement of students is inequitable: It is greater for placement in a private school than for placement in a public school such as Park.
In addition to the costs of maintaining the excellent facility that is Park School, mounting financial challenges for each school district could be in the pipeline if legislators in Springfield do not act responsibly within a reasonable time.
The future of Park School presents a many layered challenge. It is a financial challenge. It is a matter of honoring a joint agreement for maintaining the school that has been in place between the two Districts for about 40 years. It is also about educating some of our districts’ most vulnerable students.
We see the caring staff and administrators of a school that will take in, educate and enrich children who decades ago might not have had a place in the public education system. We see deeply committed families who have poured their love and support into the school. We see a future for the children of Park. We see children who, despite severe handicaps, will have a future.
We do not propose any solutions for the future of Park but we have two recommendations: First, discussions about the future of the school should be held openly and in public meetings. We realize that this could make for a long, heart-wrenching and at times difficult process. But transparency is always the better way to go, and the more voices at the table, the more likely are the chances for a reasonable and mutually acceptable solution.
Second, we would echo the suggestion of District 65 Board member Richard Rykhus that finances, legal requirements and children be considered together. We realize that the Districts’ and the community’s finances are limited and likely to be strained further in the coming years, yet settling on what appears to some to be only a financial solution and then cramming our most vulnerable children into it is not a viable approach.