Mobile classrooms under spotlight in U-46 bias trial

Ample opportunity was available for all stakeholders in Elgin Area School District U-46 to provide feedback before boundary changes took effect in the 2004-2005 school year, two witnesses for the school district testified during the continuation Monday of the federal bias lawsuit against the district.

Former chief financial officer John Prince and current special assistant for facility planning, James Feuerborn, said Monday that the process for changing educational boundaries included collecting comments at public meetings, as well as through letters, emails and phone calls from parents, residents, teachers and others in the community.

“It was very public and we had extensive amounts of opportunity for people to react,” Prince said. “There was lots of citizen participation in it ... and there was significant administrative review.”

Prince said the decision did not include discussions about isolating or segregating students based on race or ethnicity.

In 2005, several families sued the district claiming boundary changes in the 2004-2005 school year forced minority students to attend older, overcrowded schools and denied black and Hispanic students access to gifted programs, including academy programs at the district’s high schools.

The boundary changes were made on the recommendation of an advisory committee and demographer based on population growth and projected enrollment data. The changes forced the closure of two elementary schools, one each on the east and west sides of the district. Illinois Park on the district’s west side and Woodland Heights on the east side of the district were closed because there were not enough students to fill those schools, Feuerborn said.

“We had been a very fast-growing district, had built a lot schools in a short amount of time and there had been a lot of additions,” Feuerborn said. “There were pockets of the population that were disconnected.”

Feuerborn added that the feedback after the start of the school for the 2004-2005 school year was extremely positive and one of the smoothest opening days, considering the number of students who were moved around.

“District records went to all of the right schools, students were picked up and dropped off an time and books were where they needed to be,” Feuerborn said. “It was very, very successful.”

Also on Tuesday, witnesses addressed the district’s use of mobile classrooms. Mary Jayne Broncato, who served as interim superintendent after the exit of Connie Neale, said while mobile classrooms are not ideal, they provide additional space that schools need to provide programs.

“Ideal would probably be to have a large enough facility that you could address changing populations, new programs and additional programs that are needed without having to move them,” Broncato said. “It is unrealistic, but that would be the ideal case in facilities and accommodating any changes in environment.” The trial, which is expected to wrap up in August, continues on Wednesday.

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