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.