No change for rule on special education

Area districts unhappy with state board’s action

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 11:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 11:55 p.m. CDT

Near unanimous opposition from teacher unions and parents recently foiled a state board’s effort to eliminate classroom restrictions on special education students and hand more control to local school districts.

The proposal would have allowed districts to determine for the first time in more than three decades how many special education students are placed in general education classrooms.

The Illinois State Board of Education, however, pulled the idea in a meeting last week after unions such as the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union feared that local districts would use the new authority to increase class sizes and overcrowd classrooms.

“We have worked for many months now to find a compromise, and one just could not be found prior to this board meeting,” ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

The state education board received nearly 6,000 public comments on the rule change. More than 90 percent of the comments were opposed to the proposal.

Despite the strong opposition, officials from Carpentersville-based District 300 said the change would have better addressed the educational needs of special education students.

Opponents to the idea clouded the issue by making it about class sizes, said Shelley Nacke, assistant superintendent for education services.

The ISBE proposal would have eliminated the state’s “70/30” rule that stipulates no more than 70 percent of a regular classroom be general education students and no more than 30 percent be special education students.

Relaxed classroom restrictions would have granted special education students at District 300 better access to the general education curriculum and allowed them to socialize with their nondisabled peers, Nacke said.

“The issue became clouded with a separate but entirely different issue – class size,” Nacke said. “There were many educators and parents who strongly opposed increasing class sizes and weren’t overly concerned about lifting the 70/30 rule. We are disappointed that the two issues were not considered separately on their own merits.”

District 300 officials advocated for the elimination of the state rule throughout 2013.

Other officials from districts such as Huntley District 158 and Woodstock District 200 also had said that fewer restrictions would help special education students integrate with nondisabled peers.

But groups such as the Illinois Federation of Teachers were concerned that removing statewide limits would cause special education students to be dumped in large classrooms with fewer staff and resources.

“I am enormously proud of our members who took action and who know better than anyone that students – especially those with disabilities – suffer when classrooms are overcrowded and understaffed,” IFT President Dan Montgomery said in a statement.

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