Parents wary of changes for deaf and hard of hearing students in Vernon Hills program

  • The Special Education District of Lake County is evaluating options for the John Powers Center in Vernon Hills, which has programs for the deaf and hard of hearing.

      The Special Education District of Lake County is evaluating options for the John Powers Center in Vernon Hills, which has programs for the deaf and hard of hearing. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/13/2018 6:05 PM

Some parents of students in the deaf and hard of hearing program at the John Powers Center in Vernon Hills are concerned about a potential move out of town.

That possibility is part of a big picture being evaluated by the Special Education District of Lake County, which operates a variety of programs at different locations.


The agency is examining options for space needs because of continuing growth in programs. For example, representatives have visited and are evaluating Fairhaven School in Mundelein, which is being closed for student use by Diamond Lake District 76 after the school year.

However, agency officials stress no decisions have been made or timelines set regarding programming, including Powers.

"The investigation is still ongoing. There is lots to evaluate," Superintendent Valeri Donnan said.

Powers provides services for 56 students from early childhood to eighth grade who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on sign language to communicate. For nearly 40 years it has operated at 201 W. Hawthorn Parkway -- between Elementary North and Townline Elementary schools in Hawthorn District 73. The agency owns the building, but District 73 owns the land beneath.

The antenna of Powers Center parents was raised after a Nov. 15 letter from Principal Terri Nilson-Bugella regarding the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Language and Social Skills Opportunities programs.

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The letter said the executive board and administrative team are looking for options to "increase our students' access to their least restrictive learning environments including mainstreaming."

While Powers students have successfully mainstreamed in District 73, scheduling has become a concern because of larger class sizes, according to Nilson-Bugella, and there is no option for future growth. Students at Powers attend mainstream classes at three District 73 schools.

District 73 will be renovating and expanding existing buildings but does not plan to integrate classroom space for Powers, the letter reads.

As a result, the agency wants to identify an environment to "support our students' educational needs", Nilson-Bugella told parents. One option is with Millburn District 24, which has schools in Lindenhurst and Wadsworth.

"Here's a program that's been working for 38 years," said Vernon Hills resident Kim McAuliffe, whose 5-year old daughter attends Powers.


"We were really surprised to get the letter and even more shocked when we went to the Hawthorn (District 73) board and found we weren't getting correct information."

District 73 co-interim Superintendent Mark Friedman said space for Powers was never considered in the pending building program, which was approved by voters this past November.

"We're one of 31 districts in SEDOL," he said, noting that the agency owns the Powers building. "We don't carry any more weight than any other. It's speculation on a lot of sides. We don't have any recommendations we're sitting on."

McAuliffe and other parents plan to attend the agency's executive board meeting Thursday to voice concerns.

"There are only 30 deaf schools in the nation, so many programs have closed down," she said. "That's our biggest concern (that) moving out of that building would be the start of the end of that program."

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