Short staffing prompts emergency closing of Gages Lake School, to reopen Monday
An existing staff shortage coupled with additional absences reported Friday morning led to the emergency closure of Gages Lake School by the Special Education District of Lake County, but the action will be short-lived.
The school is scheduled to reopen Monday with "a number of new employees," and no additional closings are expected. All other SEDOL programs and schools were in session Friday.
"Today's emergency closing was a very unusual situation, but it's about more than just numbers," Superintendent Valerie Donnan said Friday afternoon.
"We are still working to fill a number of open positions -- and have an excellent backup system of experienced administrators and substitutes -- but even a small number of unexpected absences in key student support positions has a critical impact on our ability to provide a safe learning environment and accommodate the specialized needs of our students."
Gages Lake is SEDOL's elementary therapeutic day school for early childhood through sixth-grade students with "significant emotional and behavioral needs," according to the homepage.
The district, like others in Illinois, is dealing with a widespread teacher shortage, and special education teachers are in particularly short supply, according to Donnan.
She previously said a change in state law as well as "routine retirements and resignations" and other factors led to a "significant number" of teaching and paraprofessional vacancies.
SEDOL enacted a temporary enrollment freeze at Gages Lake and South schools and the LASSO-3 program at Laremont School until staffing levels increase.
As of Sept. 10, there were 108 open positions, including short- and long-term absences, for all SEDOL programs and facilities.
The gap prompted teachers to file grievances against the administration through its union. Union chief Rebecca Slye has said a contract requirement to provide "a safe environment for learning" was not being met and there weren't enough staff for the number of students.
The listed staff of 39 at Gages Lake School includes teachers, social workers and others.
In a recent presentation, Donnan said Gages Lake was operating at 71% of full staffing and was the hardest hit of SEDOL's schools.
Beach Park resident Lisa Azzano, whose 11-year-old son attends Gages Lake, said short staffing has created safety issues for teachers and students.
Changes in procedures also have contributed to resignations, including her son's teacher, Azzano contended.
"Why are we seeing so many leaving who have been there for years?" she said. "Parents need to know what is really going on."
Donnan said the district regularly reviews and updates procedures and training to ensure behavioral interventions are done in a "safe and appropriate manner."
All the new employees at Gages Lake have completed training and have previous experience in an education setting, Donnan said.
"With these and other skilled new employees joining our talented educational team in the coming days and weeks, we do not anticipate any additional school closings at this time," she said.