DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 is bringing students in a special deaf and hard of hearing program back into the district next year to avoid a long commute, but parents are concerned their children will be shortchanged in a number of ways.
“What we are doing is bringing our students back into their local schools, because the program has moved farther away and has made it not as accessible,” said Cristy Meyer, director of special education for the school district.
Seven District 428 students participate in the deaf and hard of hearing program run by the Northwestern Illinois Association. The nonprofit special education organization provides the program as part of a co-op with other school districts that can’t afford to each have such a learning environment in their districts.
NIA rents classroom space at schools within Community Unit School District 300, which is based in Algonquin. But when schools need those rooms back, the program has to relocate. For the 2015-16 school year, the program was at Hampshire Elementary School. The year before, it was in Burlington. For the upcoming school year, it will move to Westfield Community School in Algonquin – about an hour from DeKalb.
“That is the dilemma,” Meyer said.
To keep students from having the long bus ride back and forth to Algonquin, District 428 officials decided to bring a satellite program here. NIA would still be contracted, but the district would run the program out of Tyler Elementary School for K-fifth grade and Clinton Rosette Middle School for sixth through eighth grade.
“The beauty of that is that not only are the children who are deaf and hard of hearing getting their education with their peers, but also those student who are hearing are also being exposed to the deaf culture and sign language,” Meyer said.
Parents such as the Stacy and Igor Zapadinsky, who live in Cortland, give a nod to reducing the commute. They have three deaf children who last school year traveled nearly two hours back and forth to school.
But the couple, who also are deaf, worry that their second-, fourth- and seventh-graders won’t have qualified sign language interpreters or the teachers for the deaf. The Daily Chronicle communicated with the couple through an interpreter who is a friend of the Zapadinsky family.
District 428 plans to hire three teachers and two interpreters for the satellite program, according to school data.
“My concern is the quality of the interpreters. I did contact [Illinois State Board of Education] and they told me they are short on obtaining qualified educational interpreters,” Stacy Zapadinsky said. “I’m wondering how that will work, pulling our children out of a deaf and hard of hearing program to go into a mainstream, full-time classroom.”
Igor Zapadinsky said he is most concerned with the District 428 being able to comply with the terms of the Individualized Education Program that each of his children has.
The parents question whether the district will have enough teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. They also are concerned that their children won’t have sufficient instructional time with those educators.
“That makes us a little nervous,” the Zapadinskys said.
DeKalb resident Tina Robarts feels forced to have to enroll one of her two daughters in the satellite program. The 7-year-old will be in the first grade, and Tyler will be her fourth school.
Robarts said she had seen marked growth with her daughter over previous school years, and she felt comfortable with the deaf culture they had been part of. Now with the change of venue, she is worried.
“I have a feeling my daughter will be lost,” she said. “It’s going to be focused on the education part but not the culture … and the social aspect that the kids need.”
She will still have to figure out what to do with her 3-year-old daughter, who the mother said likely will be the only deaf child in any nearby program she enrolls her in.
“I’m really concerned, as a parent,” she said.
Starting in August, students will get some of their instruction from the deaf and hard of hearing teacher exclusively. But most of the school day will be spent in an integrated classroom where that teacher working alongside a traditional classroom teacher as they team teach, Meyer said.
According to financial information about the program that Meyer provided school board members, District 428 would not pay more to have the program here. This past school year, the district paid $263,088 to have the children in the Hampshire program. That included $94,000 for bus service.
It is estimated that it will cost about $275,000 for the District 428 satellite program, which is about $11,600 more than what the district paid this past school year. But if students from other nearby towns participate — and Meyer said they are expected to — the school district could see a surplus of about $22,700.