While the number of students receiving special services in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 remains relatively stable, officials are making changes and getting ready for a yearlong review of the program amid growing concerns from parents.
According to the official count held Dec. 1, there were 819 students enrolled in the program from early childhood through eighth grade, a number that hasn't changed much over the past five years, special services director Aimee LeBlanc said during an annual report to the school board this month.
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According to the report, the number of students with autism has risen about 6 percent, or 3 students each year for the past several years.
Special education students make up about 16 percent of the total student population in District 25 -- which is more than 5,000 -- but special education staff accounts for about 26 percent of the district's total staff.
A survey of parents with students in the special education program revealed three areas of concern. Two relate to parents' ability to network with other parents within the school. The third deals with the transitioning of students into high school.
The survey and report to the board come just before a major review of the special education program is set to begin in September. Parents have criticized an initial examination of the program by Futures Education, saying it appeared to place financial issues ahead of students.
"I welcome parent feedback," LeBlanc said. "These are their children and of course that's of the utmost importance to them so we value their feedback. It's important to look at our programs and make sure we're doing everything we need to do to help our students be successful."
To address the communication concern, LeBlanc said the district will be implementing a state program to help train parents on the special education process. The district also hopes to create a group of parent mentors for each school to act as liaisons between other parents and the district.
The district will be working more closely with Northwest Suburban High School District 214 for transition planning for students who need it, LeBlanc added.
Funding for special education remains an issue, LeBlanc said, as both federal and state assistance has decreased over the past year. Federal funding is expected to drop another 5 percent due to the sequester.
The review committee, made up of administrators, teachers and parents, had a kickoff meeting in May, but will start its work in September. The group will provide a strategic plan to the board in May or June of 2014 for any possible changes to the special education program.