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Special education co-op looks at shortening school day

MORRIS – It may only be in the discussion stages, but a proposal to shorten the school day and modify the academic calendar for some Grundy County Special Education Cooperative students has parent Lisa Fuhr outraged.

“This is unacceptable on so many levels,” Fuhr said Tuesday. “I was beside myself when I initially found out.”

The changes being discussed include shortening students’ bell-to-bell minutes — or the total minutes they are in school — without shortening the student’s classroom minutes, or the minutes they spend receiving instruction. The shortened day would allow teachers to take a 40-minute planning period, which they currently do not have.

To do this, the students’ non-instructional lunch periods would be shorter and passing periods eliminated.

The discussion also included using a new, programmatic calendar that would place co-op students in school when regular education students were not and vice versa.

According to a copy of the proposal sent by the co-op to parents in November, the changes would accommodate district busing, allow teachers to have a prep time, provide time for program collaboration and mediate any parent confusion about drop-off and arrival times.

Kent Bugg, member of the co-op executive board and superintendent of Coal City Community Unit School District 1, assured the proposed changes are tentative and need further vetting.

“The board has taken no action on this,” Bugg said after a an executive board meeting Wednesday.

Co-op members began researching the idea last fall and have discussed it at a handful of board meetings, including Wednesday’s meeting where Fuhr brought her concerns to the full board.

“I’ve had to fight for a lot things for my daughter, but I never dreamed I would have to fight for her to attend school on the same calendar and times as her regular ed peers,” Fuhr told the board.

The proposal was on Wednesday’s agenda for discussion, but was tabled indefinitely per a recommendation from co-op director Neil Sanburg.

“I think at this point in time, it’s something that we’re very excited to move forward with, but it is something that will take a little more input in terms of planning and implementation,” Sanburg said.

During the meeting, co-op program coordinator Kate Ross told the board that a survey sent home to parents with the draft proposal came back overwhelmingly in favor of the changes, with only two families strongly opposed.

Fuhr said the changes are in violation of each co-op student’s Individual Education Plan, or IEP, which are effective until February 2015.

“I will say that legally, there will be ramifications,” Fuhr told the board. “It is my hope that any future proposals will be treated with the due diligence that they deserve.”

Bugg said any changes would not be enacted by next school year and said the legality of the proposal could need more research.

“This would be a big undertaking and would not be ready by next year,” Bugg said. “It’s still in the very early stages.”

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