Evanston Public Day School ... It's Coming to Your Neighborhood
ETHS's plans to develop a special education public day school at 1233-1235 Hartrey got a huge boost on February 26th when the City Council gave final "special use" approval for the property.
The construction of this public day school is a cataclysmic event on the special education landscape in Evanston.
By this, we do not mean that it will be a disastrous event, we simply mean that it will be an event that will have momentous consequences for many special education students, particularly those who have emotional disabilities (but potentially other special education students as well). The high school emphasizes that the day school will enhance opportunities for students to remain connected to their peers, their ETHS grade level team, and the community. Students will potentially be able to participate in classes at ETHS, sports, and extracurricular activities. This is seen as a boon for students who currently spend up to an hour commuting back and forth to private therapeutic day schools and are consequently challenged to partake in activities and courses at ETHS and to stay connected with their general education peers.
If this new school is thoughtfully designed and adequately staffed with highly-trained teachers, therapists, and other professionals, it certainly has the potential to vastly improve the lives of attending students who will be able to access specially-designed instruction within their local community. On the other hand, if it is not well-planned or the plans are not well-implemented, the new school could have a negative impact on the special educational environment.
Here are some things to be aware of:
1. The new school is not just possibility - it is a reality.
ETHS has successfully jumped through all necessary zoning hoops to bring this plan to fruition. The high school will have a 10-year lease on 6,500 square feet of the building that is southeast of the intersection of Hartrey and Dempster, about three blocks from the high school. The ETHS board approved a construction contract and intends to open doors to the new school in the fall of 2019. ETHS hopes to initially serve 22 students and expand up to 40 students.
Once the school is open it will become the default placement for students with emotional disabilities.
ETHS plans to serve students who would otherwise be placed in off-campus therapeutic day schools (there are currently over 90 students receiving daily services at such schools). When asked by a board member what type of student population will be served by the new school, Dr. Lanee Walls, the Director of Special Education, responded that because the majority of students currently in private placements have emotional disabilities, she expects that they will be the largest group served.
Once this new public school is built, ETHS will be incentivized to place students there who might otherwise have placements at private schools. The average cost per student of a student receiving services outside of Evanston is $40,000 to $50,000 (tuition only; this does not include transportation). By educating ETHS students at the proposed public day school, ETHS stands to save significant funds (of course there will be expenses associated with the building and staffing of the new school, but ETHS expects to recoup these costs over the first several years of operation).
If your child is currently placed at a therapeutic day school, especially one that serves students with emotional disabilities (e.g., New Hope Academy, Safe Haven, Adolescent Day School, Arlyn), expect that ETHS may push to relocate your child to the new public day school. And if your child with an emotional disability doesn't currently have a therapeutic day placement but develops the need for one after the spring of 2019, you can expect that the District will encourage placement at this new public day school.
It's possible that students with other disabilities will be funneled into the public day school.
In response to a question from a board member, Dr. Walls declined to exclude any category of students from the students who might be served at the public day school. She observed that special education staff at ETHS are certified for all 13 of the disability eligibility categories outlined in the I.D.E.A. Sometimes, public day schools become cross (or multi-) categorical schools, meaning that they serve students with a wide variety of disabilities. This is often a challenging model to implement, as it requires a broad range of expertise and as certain groups of special education students do not meld well with others (e.g., students with behavioral issues and students with specific learning disabilities.) At this point, we cannot know for certain the scope of the special education student population that may be served by the new school.
4. The development of the new public day school may mean that some families with students requiring out-placement will not be given the option of private therapeutic day schools.
Presently, when an IEP team determines that a student requires a therapeutic day placement, the child's "packet" is sent to several possible day schools for review. Parents and the student visit the potential schools and a placement decision is made by the parents (with approval from ETHS) from amongst the schools that accept the student.
It is possible - indeed likely - that once the public day school opens, parents of students whom ETHS believes could be served at the public day school, will no longer be given the option of private day schools. ETHS may argue that the public day school presents the "least restrictive environment" because students placed there will have more access to typical peers and the general education curriculum.
What to do next?
Evanston CASE is in dialogue with ETHS Director of Special Education, Lanee Walls, concerning the proposed public day school. We will urge Dr. Walls and the Action Plan Committee to include parents in the planning and development of the new school. We hope that the CASE community will be welcomed into critical decision making on this impactful project.
Stay tuned for updates ...