Dusty Rhodes

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Imagine this: you’re in the 9th grade, and when the bell rings, you’ve got five minutes to get from Language Arts to algebra. That gives you just enough time to visit the ladies room. And surprise! Your menstrual period has arrived a few days early.

Imagine this: you’re in the 9th grade, and when the bell rings, you’ve got five minutes to get from Language Arts to algebra. That gives you just enough time to visit the ladies room. And surprise! Your menstrual period has arrived a few days early.

A suburban Chicago school teacher is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to agree she can use her paid sick days for maternity leave. The catch? Her baby was born in June, on the last full day of the school year. The teacher wanted to use her remaining 28 paid sick days at the start of the following school year. 

 

Adam Dauksas, an attorney representing the school district, told the court that interpretation disconnects the leave from the birth, and could have absurd results.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday approved a budget request seeking $9.6 billion dollars in state funds, most of which will go to the state’s “evidence-based funding” model, designed to bring all school districts up to adequate funding.

In an attempt to relieve Illinois' severe teacher shortage, state lawmakers last year voted to remove a requirement known as the "basic skills test." That test has proven to be a stumbling block, especially for people pursuing the profession later in life, as a second career. This change, enacted just five months ago, has already opened the door for a would-be special education teacher in the East Moline School District. 

In the 2017-18 school year, Illinois taxpayers funded the placement of close to 350 special education students at some 40 facilities in other states. Those facilities were as varied as the students’ needs.

When Avital van Leeuwen was in 10th grade, she was into skateboarding, punk rock, smoking pot and feminism. Her home life was in turmoil in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce, and even though — or maybe because — she’s high IQ, she was having problems at school. She wanted to transfer to a completion program, get her high school diploma and move on. 

That plan got derailed in the wee hours one morning, when she was sitting in bed reading Bitch magazine.

“I just remember my parents coming into my room out of nowhere — both of them, which was weird… I was at my dad’s house. And they said, ‘Avital, we love you very much.’”

She instantly knew: “Something really bad’s about to happen.”

Last year, Illinois amended its school code to limit options for districts sending special needs students out of state. Under this new amendment, districts are no longer be able to send students to states that don’t provide oversight of residential facilities. But some families quickly found a way to work around the new law. 

The amendment might as well have been called the Utah law. Because even though the plain language doesn’t mention Utah, that’s the state it excluded.

Stephanie Jones was general counsel for the State Board of Education in 2017, and she advocated for the change. But today, she acknowledges that families quickly resorted to unilateral placement as a workaround.

In the 2017-18 school year, Illinois sent close to 350 students with special needs to private boarding schools in other states. The cost added up to more than $10 million for tuition, and close to $20 million for housing. But it’s not always possible for school officials to know exactly what that money buys, or for parents to know what’s happening to children in those facilities.

The Illinois State Board of Education today amended emergency rules that had banned the use of certain physical restraints in schools. Those rules had been enacted two weeks ago in response to an investigation published by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica documenting thousands of incidents where children with special needs were put into seclusion rooms at school.

 

The board had reacted to that report by banning not only seclusion rooms, but also the use of prone and supine physical restraints, which can make it difficult for children to breathe or communicate normally. 

 

Kevin Rubenstein, president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, says those new rules had ripple effects.

Minnesota Dept. of Ed via ProPublica

The Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging anyone with information about abusive time-out rooms or restraints in any school setting to share that information directly with the agency. The request comes in the wake of a report by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica documenting thousands of instances of children, usually with special needs, placed in seclusion in their schools.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

llinois has more than 850 school districts, and most of those stop at 8th grade, or serve only high school students. State Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Lake Zurich), has proposed legislation that would give such districts three years to merge to become “unit” districts — the kind that serve all grades.

If a school resource officer wants to question a student about a criminal act, they first have to notify the student's parents. That's according to a new law implemented at the beginning of this school year.

But State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego), says at least one district has already created a workaround. 

"The resource officer's dog, a K-9 unit, was walking through the parking lot and alerted on a student's car. The student got questioned with the resource officer present. They looked at the car, there was nothing there,” Kifowit says. “And the parent was never notified of this questioning until the student came home upset."

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

If a school resource officer wants to question a student about a criminal act, they first have to notify the student's parents. That's according to a new law implemented at the beginning of this school year.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

With most lawsuits, you can read the pleadings and decide who’s the bad guy. But in this case filed by the Children's Habilitation Center, I can’t find a bad guy. The plaintiff represents 10 children with disabilities, seeking almost $1 million from one of the very poorest school districts in the state — West Harvey-Dixmoor District 147.

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday released its new report card. That name makes it sound like gives schools a grade, which it does. But there’s much more to it than that. Here are five things you need to know about the Illinois Report Card:

Golden Apple

In Illinois, students of color comprise more than half of the school population, but their teachers are overwhelmingly white. And even when schools recruit and hire teachers of color, those educators tend to leave the profession much faster than their white colleagues. A recent report took a look at what schools can do to encourage Black and Latinx teachers to stay.

Keith Allison / Flickr / CC-by 2.0 / HTTPS://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/KEITHALLISON/2334872072/, CC BY-SA 2.0, HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=17653644

Last week, when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing college athletes to get endorsement deals, he set off a wave of copycat legislation proposed in at least a dozen more states, including Illinois.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

About a dozen children with complex medical needs have been kicked out of school over a funding dispute. The children reside at Children's Habilitation Center — a long-term care facility for children with complex medical needs, located in Harvey, Illinois.

International students, especially those from China, play a crucial role in funding the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

LORIDAHEALTH.GOV / FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

Over the summer, public schools across Illinois received kits designed to help staff members respond in the event of life-threatening injuries. Each kit contains Nitrile gloves, a MicroShield mask, QuikClot bandages, and a tourniquet — just enough supplies to help save one person from bleeding to death. Schools can receive up to five more free kits if they train more staff on a curriculum called STOP the Bleed.

When students head back to school, most kids walk or ride the bus. But for some special education students whose families live in Illinois, school is a residential facility or boarding school in another state. 

How many kids are we talking about? You might be surprised. When we asked Melissa Taylor, past president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Ed to take her best guess, she wasn’t even close.

“Okay, so I’m thinking the wealthier suburban schools probably do more than I think they do, so let’s say 200,” Taylor says.

 

Most press conferences don’t provide breakfast pastries. But in mid-May, when the University of Illinois announced that every public four-year college in the state had signed on to its Innovation Network, the event was staged with some extra sizzle. Along with muffins, coffee and juice, there was a line-up of college presidents and chancellors, plus Springfield mayor Jim Langfelder, flanked by a big banner showing 15 stars strewn across the state of Illinois.

ALBERTOGP123 / FLICKR.COM

The Illinois State Board of Education has decided to review the slate of standardized tests students take, to try to make sure the exams align with each other.

Currently, kindergarteners are evaluated by one test, then elementary students with another, and high school juniors with a third. All those tests measure different concepts, making it difficult to see where the curriculum needs to be improved.

Amanda Elliott, legislative affairs director with the state board, says the current system causes many districts to implement additional tests.

Who should pay pension costs for Illinois teachers and school administrators? Currently, the state bears virtually all the cost, leaving the state’s 852 school districts free to negotiate benefits without worrying about the price tag. 

As Statewide listeners heard earlier this month, the education advocacy group called Stand For Children hopes to persuade lawmakers to shift pension costs to districts by integrating them in the new school funding formula. The group’s legislative director, Jessica Handy, calls that an “equity boost.”

This week, we bring you the response from the Illinois Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union — whose lobbyist, Will Lovett, spoke with our education reporter Dusty Rhodes.

A report released today by the Illinois State Board of Education shows most kindergarteners in the state start school unprepared. The Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, known by the acronym KIDS, has teachers observe their students during the first 40 days of school to assess math, language and literacy, plus social and emotional readiness. 

Similar to last year’s survey, the results show only 26 percent of students are ready in all three areas. Almost 40 percent failed to demonstrate readiness in any of the three developmental areas.

Low-income college students in Illinois got some good news today. The state's Monetary Award Program — which provides MAP grants to help pay for tuition — will be able to give more grants with more money, thanks to the largest appropriation in the fund’s history.

Lynne Baker, with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, says the agency approved a new formula that will boost grants by an average of $220 and cover at least 6,700 more students.

When Illinois revamped its school funding formula in 2017, lawmakers didn’t touch the teacher pension system. That means it’s still operating under the same inequitable framework that led to the push for school funding reform in the first place.

Now, an influential advocacy group is warning those inequities will be compounded if the state doesn’t address the teacher pension system soon.

The legislative session that wrapped up a few days ago was dominated by debates over weighty topics like preserving abortion rights, legalizing recreational cannabis sales, and changing the income tax structure of the state.

But out of the spotlight, some comparatively smaller changes were considered for the public education system.

When Illinois overhauled its school funding formula almost two years ago, it took so much time and effort that lawmakers built in a provision designed to make changes easier in the future. It shows up near the end of the 550-page law, with the creation of the Professional Review Panel — a group of stakeholders and experts empowered to recommend recalibrations of the law.

 

But a measure moving through the legislature now, would recalibrate the Review Panel itself, by giving Gov. J.B. Pritzker power to appoint a chair and vice-chair.

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