special education

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 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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Courtesy of the Renken Family

School systems label children with disabilities as "special education" students. But sometimes, what those special children want more than anything is to feel normal.