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Article updated: 3/11/2013 11:35 PM

District 300 considers taking a stand on special education ratios

By Tara García Mathewson

Community Unit District 300 board members are considering making a priority advocating for more control of how many special education students would be allowed in some classrooms.

The state's "70/30 rule" limits the number of students with disabilities in a mixed-education classroom to 30 percent of the total. The Illinois State Board of Education proposed eliminating that rule in February, which, if approved, would allow districts to choose their own ratios.

Shelley Nacke, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said if there were local control in choosing the ratio for mixed-education classrooms, she would recommend shifting the cap on students with disabilities to 40 percent.

The District 300 Board Legislative Committee develops a list of priorities to recommend to the board each year. Once those priorities are adopted, committee members and administrators are free to organize community and legislative support for the change, like they did in opposition to the Sears economic development package in 2011.

The committee discussed the 70/30 rule elimination Monday before the full board meeting. Steve Fiorentino, co-chairman of the committee and board of education member, said he didn't feel comfortable bringing it to the board for a vote because of concerns raised during the earlier meeting.

Mike Williamson, spokesman for the LEAD 300 teachers union and member of the legislative committee, said labor leaders within the district need more information. The Illinois Education Association, of which LEAD 300 is a member, opposes a shift away from the 70/30 rule because they say it protects teachers and helps ensure all students get the support they need.

Williamson said union leaders will discuss the proposal in coming weeks and decide whether to support the administration's recommendation.

"I certainly don't want to lessen the student experience," Williamson said.

The legislative committee is scheduled to meet April 8, after which Fiorentino expects the proposal to come before the full board.

The state board of education is holding a public comment period on eliminating the 70/30 rule through April 22.

The district's other stated priorities are focused on pension reform, truancy and state funding for school operations, special programs, transportation and capital projects.

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