Sunday, April 19, 2009

Future of Special Ed at Mt Greenwood

from the Southtown: Authored by William Lee

Frustrated Mount Greenwood School parents packed a meeting to vent their frustration at the news that some special education students would be moved to a Morgan Park elementary school to alleviate overcrowding at Mount Greenwood.

The crowd of nearly 100 parents met with Chicago Public School officials and Ald. Ginger Rugai (19th) Wednesday at the Mount Greenwood Park fieldhouse, 3721 W. 111th St., to discuss the plan that would move special education students to two other schools.

In light of a surge of new applicants for the 2009-2010 school year, some parents recently received letters that their children would be bused elsewhere.

The parents of autistic children were told their children would be transferred to Clissold School in Beverly, which has a similar program. The parents of children with Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities were told their children would be sent to Esmond School, 1865 W. Montvale Ave., which CPS officials say is the only area school with adequate space.

None of the nearby public schools had proper space to take in new special education students, said Jawanda Hairston, a senior manager with CPS' office of specialized services. While the transfer plan was not a done deal, it was a "frontrunner," Hairston said.

The plan caused a furor among parents, who were either disliked the idea of busing their children out of the neighborhood or were concerned about the safety at Esmond.

"My biggest frustration is that nobody asked me anything," said Nancy Cranston, whose 9-year-old son Danny has Down Syndrome and attends Mount Greenwood. Cranston echoed many parents' comments saying they felt a strong sense of community.

Katie Kettering, who helped arrange the meeting with several other mothers, said safety for her son Charlie was her biggest concern.

"I know that when he's here, he's going to be watched over," Kettering said. "The older kids will make sure he won't go off by himself. His safety is a huge issue," she said.

Rugai said she understood parents' concern over the move, saying that while she'd witnessed positive changes at Esmond, that it sat in "the most volatile section of our community."

Rugai said she would fight to keep the students at the school and was open to other options such as converting other spaces into classrooms or even stopping Mount Greenwood's preschool classes.

The fight to stay at Mount Greenwood could also reignite tensions over student residency - a hot-button topic in the community - or increase demands to close open enrollment, as some parents did at the meeting.

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