Dusty Rhodes

Reporter - Education Desk

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014. But it's not her years of experience or her education that help her understand this beat. It's her sons -- "one homemade, one adopted" -- who have vastly different types of intelligence and vastly different learning styles. Between the two of them, she's experienced public, charter, Montessori and magnet schools, gifted, IEP and 504 accommodations, and uncountable band concerts, science fairs, basketball games, and parent/teacher conferences. It's the parent/teacher conferences that always make her cry.

Shannan Muskopf / Flickr Creative Commons

Nationwide, colleges and universities are changing their admissions policies to make traditional standardized tests like the ACT and the SAT optional. In Illinois, more than a dozen schools have already adopted some version of this approach, including Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and several private schools. 

 

albertogp123 / flickr.com

A high score on the SAT or ACT is no longer required for admission to more than a dozen four-year colleges and universities in Illinois. As of last week, that includes Northern Illinois University, which will now accept a high school GPA of 3.0 for admission.

 

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Western Illinois University, and many private colleges had already adopted similar policies. They’re all part of a growing movement.

Courtesy of Marcus Chatfield

Listeners may have heard some of our series on Illinois special education students being sent out of state, many to “behavior modification” programs. One response we got was from Marcus Chatfield, currently working toward his PhD at the University of Florida. He has written two thesis papers on such programs.

Chatfield has been interested in this topic since the 1980s, when he was placed in the Straight Incorporated center in Springfield, Virginia, as a teenager. Straight Incorporated was a massive drug treatment program that operated 43 centers across 18 States until 1993, when it shut down facing investigations documenting abuse and multimillion dollar judgments in several lawsuits.

 

Chatfield spoke with our education reporter.

Courtesy of Illinois Education Association

A suburban Chicago school teacher is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to agree she can use her paid sick days for maternity leave. The catch? Her baby was born in June, on the last full day of the school year. The teacher wanted to use her remaining 28 paid sick days at the start of the following school year. 

 

Adam Dauksas, an attorney representing the school district, told the court that interpretation disconnects the leave from the birth, and could have absurd results.

Illinois State Board of Education

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday approved a budget request seeking $9.6 billion dollars in state funds, most of which will go to the state’s “evidence-based funding” model, designed to bring all school districts up to adequate funding.

Courtesy of Kelly McConohy

In an attempt to relieve Illinois' severe teacher shortage, state lawmakers last year voted to remove a requirement known as the "basic skills test." That test has proven to be a stumbling block, especially for people pursuing the profession later in life, as a second career. This change, enacted just five months ago, has already opened the door for a would-be special education teacher in the East Moline School District. 

Sean Crawford: All this week, Dusty has been sharing a series of stories about special education students placed in private facilities in other states — how many students, who pays for the placements, and why Illinois passed that law banning placements in the state of Utah. She joins me now to discuss the project. 

Q: So Dusty how many of these kids actually leave Illinois for school?

A: Close to 350 for residential placement, another 140 or so are in therapeutic day school, mostly in the St. Louis area.

Q:  So what kind of disabilities to these students have?

  

Courtesy of Medium Anonymous

An Illinois freelance journalist was inspired by his personal experience at CEDU — widely recognized as the flagship enterprise of the "troubled teen boarding school" industry — to undertake an investigation of that facility. In 2018, he published an in-depth 16,000-word history of CEDU and its offshoots on Medium.com. 

Illinois State Board of Education

In the 2017-18 school year, Illinois taxpayers funded the placement of close to 350 special education students at some 40 facilities in other states. Those facilities were as varied as the students’ needs.

Steve Appleford

When Avital van Leeuwen was in 10th grade, she was into skateboarding, punk rock, smoking pot and feminism. Her home life was in turmoil in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce, and even though — or maybe because — she’s high IQ, she was having problems at school. She wanted to transfer to a completion program, get her high school diploma and move on. 

That plan got derailed in the wee hours one morning, when she was sitting in bed reading Bitch magazine.

“I just remember my parents coming into my room out of nowhere — both of them, which was weird… I was at my dad’s house. And they said, ‘Avital, we love you very much.’”

She instantly knew: “Something really bad’s about to happen.”

Maya-Elena Jackson

Last year, Illinois amended its school code to limit options for districts sending special needs students out of state. Under this new amendment, districts are no longer be able to send students to states that don’t provide oversight of residential facilities. But some families quickly found a way to work around the new law. 

The amendment might as well have been called the Utah law. Because even though the plain language doesn’t mention Utah, that’s the state it excluded.

Stephanie Jones was general counsel for the State Board of Education in 2017, and she advocated for the change. But today, she acknowledges that families quickly resorted to unilateral placement as a workaround.

QuoteInspector via Flickr CC BY ND 2

Every child in America has the right to a “free and appropriate public education,” thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush almost three decades ago.

And if that education can’t be provided in the student’s home district, the student can go elsewhere —  also for free. Illinois taxpayers typically spend at least $25 million per year to place hundreds of students outside the state, in residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, and other private facilities designed to serve students with special needs. 

Courtesy of the family

In the 2017-18 school year, Illinois sent close to 350 students with special needs to private boarding schools in other states. The cost added up to more than $10 million for tuition, and close to $20 million for housing. But it’s not always possible for school officials to know exactly what that money buys, or for parents to know what’s happening to children in those facilities.

Illinois State Board of Education

The Illinois State Board of Education today amended emergency rules that had banned the use of certain physical restraints in schools. Those rules had been enacted two weeks ago in response to an investigation published by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica documenting thousands of incidents where children with special needs were put into seclusion rooms at school.

 

The board had reacted to that report by banning not only seclusion rooms, but also the use of prone and supine physical restraints, which can make it difficult for children to breathe or communicate normally. 

 

Kevin Rubenstein, president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, says those new rules had ripple effects.

Minnesota Dept. of Ed via ProPublica

The Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging anyone with information about abusive time-out rooms or restraints in any school setting to share that information directly with the agency. The request comes in the wake of a report earlier this week by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica documenting thousands of instances of children, usually with special needs, placed in seclusion in their schools.

Kevin Rubenstein, president of a statewide group of special education administrators, told the board to expect to hear even more stories.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Teachers and educational support personnel in the Springfield School District approved a new two-year contract last night by a vote of 422 to 150.The package includes annual 3 percent raises for teachers and 4.25 percent for support personnel over each of the two years of the contract.

Christine Sanders, a teacher assistant at the Early Learning Center and a member of the bargaining team, said there's a reason support personnel got a higher percentage raise.

McConchie in office
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Illinois has more than 850 school districts, and most of those stop at 8th grade, or serve only high school students. State Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Lake Zurich), has proposed legislation that would give such districts three years to merge to become “unit” districts — the kind that serve all grades.

“I actually have a K-8 district that feeds more than one high school district,” he says. “And some of the experts that I’ve talked to, when I tell them that, they just look at me kind of incredulously and say, ‘How do they even establish a curriculum appropriately?’ ”

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

If a school resource officer wants to question a student about a criminal act, they first have to notify the student's parents. That's according to a new law implemented at the beginning of this school year.

But State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego), says at least one district has already created a workaround. 

"The resource officer's dog, a K-9 unit, was walking through the parking lot and alerted on a student's car. The student got questioned with the resource officer present. They looked at the car, there was nothing there,” Kifowit says. “And the parent was never notified of this questioning until the student came home upset."

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Springfield teachers are headed back to the bargaining table after their union, the Springfield Education Association, voted last night to reject the latest proposal from School District 186. Although the district made an offer that included raises, only 300 union members voted to accept the contract, while 448 voted against. 

Larry Hale, a member of SEA’s bargaining team, said they're asking the school board for more than just money.

"I was in there counting votes. The number one issue is safety and security. We've had several talks with them, but there's no teeth to what they tell us that they're going to do and all they are are talks," he said. 

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday released its new report card. That name makes it sound like gives schools a grade, which it does. But there’s much more to it than that. Here are five things you need to know about the Illinois Report Card:  

Carmen is learning to walk at Children's Habilitation Center.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

With most lawsuits, you can read the pleadings and decide who’s the bad guy. But in this case filed by the Children's Habilitation Center, I can’t find a bad guy. The plaintiff represents 10 children with disabilities, seeking almost $1 million from one of the very poorest school districts in the state — West Harvey-Dixmoor District 147.

Golden Apple

In Illinois, students of color comprise more than half of the school population, but their teachers are overwhelmingly white. And even when schools recruit and hire teachers of color, those educators tend to leave the profession much faster than their white colleagues. A recent report took a look at what schools can do to encourage Black and Latinx teachers to stay.

Keith Allison / - https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/2334872072/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17653644

Last week, when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing college athletes to get endorsement deals, he set off a wave of copycat legislation proposed in at least a dozen more states, including Illinois. 

State Representative Emanuel Chris Welch (D-Hillside) filed a bill here to make sure Illinois keeps up. 

"If I'm a coach in California right now, this is an amazing recruiting tool, and I think it places them at an advantage in the recruiting arena. And so I'd like to make sure colleges and universities in Illinois have the same tool that California universities do,” Welch says.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Springfield District 186 school teachers have been working without a contract since mid-August. And despite hours of bargaining, they haven't come to any agreement with the school board. 

Joey Gobble, who teaches history at Lanphier High School, said sure, they're asking for better salaries. But they're also asking for smaller class sizes, more alternative education classes, plus more social workers and psychologists, and more help for students.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

About a dozen children with complex medical needs have been kicked out of school over a funding dispute. The children reside at Children's Habilitation Center — a long-term care facility for children with complex medical needs, located in Harvey, Illinois.

On Friday, CHC filed a lawsuit against the West Harvey-Dixmoor Public School District 147, the Illinois State Board of Education, and several other school districts.

Zihan Wang poses on Quad
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

International students, especially those from China, play a crucial role in funding the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

UIS United

The faculty union at the University of Illinois Springfield today released a survey that amounts to a no-confidence vote against top administrators.

Chancellor Susan Koch, Provost Dennis Papini, and the four college deans scored approval ratings below 40 percent. The survey also asked professors whether they felt a “strong sense of belonging” and would be “happy to spend the rest of (their) careers” at UIS. Most of those responses were similarly negative.

floridahealth.gov / Florida Department of Health

Over the summer, public schools across Illinois received kits designed to help staff members respond in the event of life-threatening injuries. Each kit contains Nitrile gloves, a MicroShield mask, QuikClot bandages, and a tourniquet — just enough supplies to help save one person from bleeding to death. Schools can receive up to five more free kits if they train more staff on a curriculum called STOP the Bleed

 

Mary Connelly, director of the state's medical emergency response team and a former emergency room nurse, says it’s the training that really helps. 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Despite getting a 5 percent increase over last year’s state funding, the University of Illinois Springfield has announced a budget cut of up to 10 percent. The most immediate impact is the suspension of a program known as “desktop refresh,” which promises new computers to faculty and staff every four years.

Kristi Barnwell, a history professor and president of the union representing faculty, says this leaves her colleagues reliant upon equipment that no longer works.

http://www.ybgr.org/

When students head back to school, most kids walk or ride the bus. But for some special education students whose families live in Illinois, school is a residential facility or boarding school in another state. 

How many kids are we talking about? You might be surprised. When we asked Melissa Taylor, past president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Ed to take her best guess, she wasn’t even close.

“Okay, so I’m thinking the wealthier suburban schools probably do more than I think they do, so let’s say 200,” Taylor says.

 

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