Enrollment freeze lifted at two special education district schools in Lake County

  • The Special Education District of Lake County has lifted the enrollment freeze at its South and Laremont schools, but is keeping the limit in place at Gages Lake School. The district froze enrollment last month because of a staffing shortage that teachers say has put their safety at risk.

      The Special Education District of Lake County has lifted the enrollment freeze at its South and Laremont schools, but is keeping the limit in place at Gages Lake School. The district froze enrollment last month because of a staffing shortage that teachers say has put their safety at risk. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Shea
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 10/25/2019 10:16 PM

The Special Education District of Lake County has lifted enrollment limits at two schools after freezing student levels last month because of staffing shortages.

The district's executive board voted unanimously Thursday to remove enrollment caps at South School and Laremont School but keep the cap in place at Gages Lake School.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The move comes a little more than six weeks after the board voted to freeze enrollment across the district after staffing shortages prompted concerns about teacher safety. The freeze was supposed to last until 90% of staff positions were filled.

"South and (Laremont) are now consistently staffed at a similar ratio that has been safe and successful at these schools over the years," Superintendent Valerie Donnan said. "We have made excellent progress at Gages Lake and have just a little ways to go until we are at traditional levels with very little need for subs."

The district is a special education cooperative of 31 local school districts that serves about 1,300 students with physical, emotional and other learning disabilities.

Donnan said that during the enrollment freeze, the district has been providing private placement support for families affected. She said officials plan to leave the cap in place at Gages Lake School for "possibly another month."

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But many teachers feel the situation has not improved much since they filed grievances against the administration through their union in August, according to union President Rebecca Slye.

The union conducted a survey of its roughly 200 members and received responses from approximately 80. About 72% of respondents said the district has not provided a safe work environment for staff; 73% said the district has not provided a safe environment for students.

"Our staff are experiencing trauma in the workplace on a daily basis," Slye said. "I genuinely believe so many great people have left because of what's gone on in this district."

Slye said the union is satisfied with the decision to lift the caps at South School and Laremont School but not Gages Lake School.

"We feel like the district has done their due diligence" on South School and Laremont School, she added. "We're nervous that they're gonna lift (the enrollment cap) at Gages. We're happy that they have not lifted it yet."

Donnan said the administration is pleased about the higher staffing levels.

"Staff and student safety remain a top priority in our district, and we have successfully been working with a very strong group of substitute teaching and support staff while we continue with robust recruitment efforts," she said.

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