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109 Parents Defend Suspended Teacher

Parents of Stephanie Horwitz’s students praise her efforts with their children. Some hint foul at circumstances leading to disciplinary action.

A number of current and former Caruso Middle School parents whose children were taught by Stephanie Horwitz are expressing disappointment at the decision of the Deerfield Public Schools District 109 Board of Education’s Nov. 26 decision to suspend the special education teacher.

These parents feel Horwitz was a staunch advocate for their children and a major factor in their academic success overcoming special learning needs. There is also an underlying feeling by some the action is not based solely on her professional merit.

Earlier: 109 Acts To Dismiss Tenured Teacher

“Stephanie was always about trying to accommodate my daughter,” Lisa Polisner said. Polisner’s child is still a Caruso student. “She was very aware of my daughter’s needs. She was an excellent communicator with me as a parent.”

Horwitz went on medical leave without pay in March. The Board suspended her without pay Nov. 26 pending formal proceedings which could lead to a permanent dismissal. Neither Board President Ellen London nor District Superintendent Renee Goier would comment for this story.

Several people told Patch Horwtiz was a strong advocate for her students, a critical part of a special education teacher’s tool box. Richard Heller, who has two children at Caruso, remembers that encouragement as one of the things which gave him comfort.

“I liked the preparation and the way she advocated for our son,” Heller said. Horwitz tried to obtain additional services for Heller’s boy.

Not only did parents credit Horwitz with advocacy for her students, but for relentlessly forcing them to achieve. She taught them how to learn and gave them organizational skills to further their education, according to Stephanie Lerner-Ernsteen.

Horwitz Set Parents at Ease

“She set me at ease before they were at Caruso,” Lerner-Ernsteen said of her twin boys—Evan and Josh—now college sophomores. Lerner-Ernsteen was worried about the services her boys would receive before they got to middle school. “She made them stay on task. She held them accountable.”

Amy Parker, who observed Horwitz as a teacher while working as a substitute at Caruso, saw the same things. “She never let up on the kids,” Parker said. Parker’s own children are now grown but went through District schools and Deerfield High School.

Parker last taught in the District in 2009 but sensed a frustration in Horwitz over what the teacher felt the children needed and what the District was providing. “She seemed torn between her perceived student needs and what the District was willing to do,” Parker said.

Heller saw a more specific relationship between the tensions. Heller went into a meeting with Horwitz, Heller’s outside professional and Julianne Fredericks, then an administrator in the District, to help develop his son’s individual educational plan (IEP).

Parent Claims Attribution Incorrect

The private professional suggested Heller’s son receive extra time for tests and assignments. Heller later heard the suggestion was attributed to Horwitz and was one of the reasons the teacher received an unsatisfactory review from the District.

“A few weeks later, we learned Ms. Horowitz received an unfavorable performance review,” Heller said. “Supposedly, she wasn’t qualified to make this suggestion (for more time). Maybe she wasn’t, but our advocate was. We felt that Ms. Horowitz was railroaded by her supervisor.”

When it was time for Polisner to go into an IEP meeting for her daughter that year, she was not pleased Horwtiz did not speak up. Polisner was under the impression Horwitz was unwilling to speak out of fear of a poor performance review.

“It made me frustrated that the person who was there to help my daughter was afraid to talk in her annual IEP meeting,” Polisner said.

Patch contacted Fredericks, who now works for a different school district, to discuss the accusation. She did not return the call to prior to the deadline for this story.

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T December 03, 2012 at 02:22 PM
The parents have it right and are 100% accurate. Stephanie was the best thing this school had. She knew our kids so well and always was able to get them through the tough times. She went beyond what was required as a resource teacher and advocated for them and us. I think this is what the district did not like. The best thing the district did do was to get rid of Julianne Fedricks. It was just too bad that it took them way too long to do it. The damage was done and I know Stephanie was the scapegoat for all their problems. This school district really needs to look at what happened from the beginning when they changed the resource program. I was there during the change and it was not pretty. This is when it all started. And now the kids are paying the price. Stephanie was the only one who kept us and our children going during all of this. Even when it negatively affected her. This district made the biggest mistake and it will cost them at the end.
John Russillo December 03, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Hopefully this will make it clear why the DEA fought for special ed language in the contract. The fact that teachers were punished for speaking up during IEP meetings is reprehensible. The 8 year reign of the current Supt can't come to an end quick enough. This is why communication and collaborative skills are the most important skills our next Supt must have. And by the way T, the district did not get rid of Ms. Fredericks. She left the district for a higher level administrative position. Yes, you heard that correctly.
D'skidoc December 03, 2012 at 04:16 PM
In the unprotected (non-union) world, only one of two things can happen to a squeaky wheel. It either finds some grease on its own, or it gets itself greased right out the door. If the institution isn't inclined to provide grease for its squeaky wheels, then it has to shove her out the door with a lot more friction and resistance. Unfortunately, schools, and other collaborative institutions don't work well when they hire automatons who won't ask for grease when it is needed, nor when they withhold grease from the wheels that need it the most, the ones who can't ask for it themselves, the children.
T December 03, 2012 at 05:51 PM
John you can call it what you like. But she was no longer welcome and the writing was on the wall. Us parents see if very differently. It is a shame it took so long for her to go as she never belonged in that position. I know from first hand experience what a nightmare she was. I went to the superintendent and got no where. It fell on deaf ears. Now it is time for the district to fix special education and give the kids what they need. More resource teachers like Stephanie. And the freedom for teachers to speak up with out consequences.
David December 03, 2012 at 06:27 PM
You all realize that she is being let go because she has been MIA for almost 10 months...Her "disability" is anxiety. It would be great to hear how she expects them to accommodate that in a special education environment. Her competency is irrelevant in this case. At some point the district has to give her the ultimatum of coming back to work or leaving (by termination if necessary). It is great that she helped many of you children in the past but there are just as many students who she abandoned in March that had to finish the year with different aids. Another factor in this is the relationship with the remaining staff. There are few, if any, staff members at Caruso that want to work with her again in the future. It didn't help that during the recent contract negotiations she felt the need to speak to the media on behalf of her former peers without their consent. Horwitz is not a victim by any definition. While it is great that she is getting recognition for her past work, at this time and with everything that has occurred since March, she needs to move on.
John Russillo December 03, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Oh yes, I'm sure it was strongly suggested to her to find other employment. But again, the way she performed her job was strongly supported by the district until the parents got involved, then she was made the scapegoat. It all starts (and ends) at the top.
Richard Heller December 04, 2012 at 05:40 AM
Last summer, I proposed to the school board that district policy should state clearly that no teacher should be admonished for providing their honest opinions during any IEP meeting. At the last School Board meeting, I asked about the status of my suggestion (school board policy states that all policy suggestions are reviewed by the Policy Committee). I was told that my suggestions were all found ill-advised and/or illegal. Perhaps this suggestion was. However, those 'findings' never appeared in the minutes of the Policy Committee or in the minutes of any School Board meeting. Curious.
Mom December 04, 2012 at 02:17 PM
David, I am quite curious to know how you know all of this information regarding Ms. Horwitz's condition(s). Considering that in the first article that was written on the patch a Deerfield Resident asked what her illness was. As for your statement about her peers and speaking without their consent, the only reason why she was asked to go public was by the Union, so get the facts straight. Seriously, after all that she has been put through and the parents supporting her anyway, do you really think she would want to go back to the district? How about before judging this person, you put yourself into her position on what has occurred? Just saying...let it go. As T said, this is something that has been going on for a long time, and because she has the guts to stand up to a district that took a look at special education and said let's cut numbers and services, and I believe that all these parents are saying the same thing, she struggled with the future of her students, it takes guts in my book to stand up to more than one individual that has now ruined her career as an educator. It seems that you feel this is something that just came out of the blue. Share more since you seem to know so much...which in curiosity how do you know so much and more that has been shared?
MSB December 04, 2012 at 03:08 PM
It is very clear why this board believes that a 20% bullying rate in the district is acceptable since that is what they practice. I cannot wait until the two witches (Goier / London) are gone this spring. I was thinking how much more damage can they do in the time they have left and then we got the tax levy and now this.
T December 04, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Mom, you are so on track and have it right. How does this person know so much. Also I though all medical conditions are private so she does not need to say anything or share anything with the public. And yes it has been going on a long time. I find it interesting that he knows how all the teachers feel. How does he know this? It does takes guts to go public and fight the school district. If anyone thinks she is backing down they have it wrong. She has nothing to lose and everything to gain. She is standing up for all the teachers in this district who do not have the courage to do it. She is standing up for all the kids and parents. No one should ever be bullied in the workplace. This district should be so ashame as how they run the special education and treat teachers. If I was a parent of young children who needed services I would run away from these schools fast until real change is made and these kids get what they need and deserve. As someone else said it is not fast enough for Goier to leave.
John Russillo December 04, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Let's face it, Dick. Those few of us who regularly attend board meetings and ask questions have been branded troublemakers and malcontents. Our questions are not answered. Our ideas are not considered. And we are the most active parents in the district! When certain people speak at board meetings, the looks on the faces of some of the Board members are priceless....followed by a hasty "anyone else?" from the Board president. It's disfunctional and totally unacceptable. The thought that this group will be selecting the next Superintendent sickens me, but it is what it is. Remember that lady who poured her heart out two meetings ago regarding her child's allergic condition? She still hasn't been accomodated. The BOE and Supt would rather pursue legal action than attempt to work with parents and teachers.
barry June 14, 2013 at 01:51 PM
Let's see..only days have gone by since the departure of disgraced Ellen London and Goir, the induction of new school board members and a resolution has come to pass! Evedence to what strong arm knuckleheads those two were.... It must be remembered who else was involved and collaberated with those two and that is the ousted, but currently employed at the district office as DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOARCES (ha!) DALE FISHER, then Principal of Caruso. Possibly the law firm that actually made many of the desicions that affected the district reached back with both hands and pulled their heads out because they got the message that they are soon to be replaced, huge numbers of unnessesay billable hours are soon to be a thing of the past because for them, and the gravey train is over. The new board and Superintendent will make proper leadership desicions they were elected to make. We now would like a review by this new board of the employment expenteture and logic of maintaining Dale Fisher's fiasco of District employment. And we will continue to monitor Mr. Schwartz....his "sponsor" and new school board president. I would just tack on the $65k settlement as "in addition to the expentiture of Mr. Fisher's already stacked salary and benefits we never needed". TO THE NEW BOARD: KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. !!!

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