On June 3, Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services for School District 65, presented a proposal to lease one of the four classrooms at the Day School being established by Evanston Township High School at 1233 Hartrey in Evanston. ETHS plans to use the Day School to provide a program for some of its students with special education needs and disabilities.
Ms. Bartz told members of the District 65 School Board at a Finance Committee meeting there has been a growing number of students with emotional needs coming into the District’s middle schools, some suffering from depression and anxiety. Social workers have been advocating that these students need a smaller, more restrictive setting “where we would be able to support their needs both emotionally and academically.”
She said the classroom at the Day School would provide a small, specialized setting for up to eight seventh- or eighth-graders who were returning to school from being hospitalized with an opportunity to remain in the community and not be transported for one-and-a-half hours to three hours per day to and from a private day school.
She added that in the last year, two day schools in the area have closed, and the District has not been able to place some students in day schools to meet their needs because schools are full.
Ms. Bartz apologized for bringing a proposal so late, but said she had discussed the proposal with the middle school social workers and special services supervisors and “all were in agreement that this would be beneficial for our students.”
Under the proposed agreement, District 65 would pay ETHS $17,125 for each District 65 student attending the Day School in the first year, with increases each year for the three-year agreement. District 65 would also be responsible to pay the cost of a teacher and paraprofessional support for its students, and to provide the academic curriculum, supplies, individual technology, nursing services and medication management. The proposed agreement provides that ETHS “may” provide certain services, including social work services.
Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern said, “I don’t have enough information as a Board member to say whether I’m for this or not. … I would like more time to discuss it.” He asked if there was space for an additional self-contained classroom in one of the District’s schools.
Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said, “I don’t feel I have the information I need,” mentioning she was aware of conversations in the community about the ETHS Day School. “I think understanding the perspective of families in the community is really important.”
Finance Committee member Candance Chow said there has been a lack of clarity about the needs of the students that ETHS will be serving at the Day School, and she said she would like to know more about that to understand how District 65’s seventh- and eighth-graders would fit in at the school. “It feels like we have to slow down and understand what is going to happen in the school in general in the fall, and see if it is right for us to be bringing kids in.”
Ms. Chow noted the proposed agreement with ETHS lists many services that ETHS “may” provide to District 65 students at the school. “Are they actually going to provide them?” she asked. She also noted that the agreement allowed each party to terminate the agreement upon 90 days notice. She expressed concern that if ETHS decided they needed the entire space, District 65 would be required to find other space.
Board President Suni Kartha said there has been an increasing number of students placed in self-contained classrooms in the District and an increasing number of students placed in schools outside the District. “We need to have a Board-level discussion about what our vision is for special services and how we deliver them,” she said.
Superintendent Paul Goren suggested “a pause” and that administrators bring back additional information in August, September or October, with the idea that a program could be implemented for the 2020-2021 school year.
Cari Levin, Executive Director of Evanston Citizens for Appropriate Special Education, said the students that Ms. Bartz is talking about “are fragile” and they “have needs right now, … and they need to be in a special needs environment with staff and programing that can help them.” She added they need a therapeutic environment with wrap-around services, not a self-contained classroom model. “I’d like to see the Board have a conversation around investment in programing for these children. That needs to happen before October, November, December, in my opinion.”
Ms. Bartz said, “I’m in agreement with you all getting more information. … But I want to be very clear. We place children into therapeutic day placements as do other districts that are quite a ways away at great expense, and very few of them [the children] ever return to our schools and improve socially and academically. And it is a huge concern in terms of how we are treating some of our most vulnerable students. I agree great care has to be given to how we look at this.”
The Finance Committee voted to recommend that the proposed agreement between ETHS and District 65 be brought to the full Board as an information discussion item in a subsequent meeting for action in the 2019-2020 calendar year.