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State puts off vote on capping special education students in classes

Updated: September 20, 2013 2:22PM

Facing an “unprecedented” public reaction, the Illinois State Board of Education put off a vote Thursday repealing state rules that limit the number of special education students in classrooms.

State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch later referred to one of those rules as “somewhat discriminatory,” though, and told the Chicago Sun-Times the issue won’t be dropped. He said he’ll be sitting down with people on both sides of the issue in hopes of finding a compromise.

“There are definitely some issues that we need to resolve,” Koch said. “And we’ve got to figure out a way to do it.”

One rule limits to 30 percent the number of special education students in general education classrooms. The other caps the size of special education classrooms.

Koch said the 30-percent rule discriminates against special education students by restricting access to classrooms. The other, he said, creates administrative issues for local school districts.

He wants local officials to prescribe their own rules because at the state level, he said, “we don’t know the students.”

“And yet we’re prescribing here in a very rigid way what they can do,” Koch said.

The proposal so far has drawn more than 5,500 public comments — an “unprecedented” number — according to Illinois State Board of Education records. They say “an overwhelming majority of the commenters expressed concerns” and called the idea “devastating,” “detrimental” and “catastrophic.”

Some say the proposal will lead to budget cuts. Koch acknowledged “there will always be abuses,” but he said local districts can only decrease special education funding for limited reasons, including a drop in enrollment.

“We monitor that,” Koch said.

Opponents aren’t convinced. North Sider Laurie Viets called the proposal “a dangerous situation” that is “not good for anybody.” Her 4-year-old son, Canyon, attends Beard Elementary School on the Northwest Side serving students with special needs. Eliminating the 30-percent rule, she said, will lead to more students in already crowded general education classrooms.

“It’s not for the good of the kids,” Viets said. “It’s to save money. And you can’t save money on the backs of children.”

She said she hoped the state board would vote down Koch’s proposal Thursday, but now she’s taking its decision not to act as a good sign.

“I’m hoping that they’re listening,” Viets said.


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