New alternative school raises concerns with residents

By Alison Swade

Residents are questioning what types of students are coming into their neighborhood.

The former South School in Westmont, which was closed as an elementary building in the spring, will reopen this fall to serve students with multi-needs.

“We were made to feel prejudice because we have concerns about what behavior (needs) these students have,” said Dena Giuliano, a former parent of South School before it closed last spring.

Community Unit School District 201 officials say they are doing just as parents asked them to – finding new students for the small school – and any reservations about an alternative school coming to their neighborhood is not only ethically and morally wrong, but illegal.

At the July 24 meeting, Community Unit School District 201 signed a lease with Burr Ridge Community Consolidated School District 180 for two years to provide an alternative school to meet the needs of students who are not successful in a regular education classroom. Some of these students have behavioral and emotional disorders while others do not, according to District 180 Superintendent Thomas Schneider.

“I don’t understand how having 12 students who need a small classroom setting – some with disabilities and some not – are going to disrupt the community,” Schneider said.

Schneider, who was there to address parents’ concerns at the July 24 meeting, said the small alternative school will monitor students’ progress, so that students can eventually transition back to the district’s middle and elementary schools.

With the number of special education students increasing statewide, District 180 will save on costs by sending students to Westmont. The district had been transporting special education students and those with behavioral problems to schools up to an hour away and paying $25,000 to $40,000 per child annually for tuition.

District 201 Superintendent Steven Baule said no concerns have been raised regarding the Community High School District 99 program. Next year, District 99 will be leasing the second half of South School, to provide a program for multi-needs transition students.

Last month, District 99 signed a three-year lease with District 201 for their program, which teaches students up to 21 years old how to transition into life beyond high school. These students will mostly have cognitive disabilities such as autism, but some may have behavioral disabilities as well.
Giuliano addressed the Westmont Village Board Thursday, stating District 201 never communicated the two programs were coming to the community.
Baule said the district discussed its plans in public meetings, as well as posted news releases on its Web site. Newsletters were mailed to residents recently.
“This is not a behavior program,” said Baule. “The students will be taking the bus, met at the bus and escorted back into the building. Their interaction with the community will be extremely minimal.”

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