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Parents Boost Special Education

District 113 leads the state with 504 accommodations for more test time. The parents have a lot to do with it.

Parent advocacy and involvement as well as an aware professional staff are major reasons students with special needs in Deerfield’s schools from kindergarten through high school get the tools for success.

As recent Chicago Tribune article reported led the state with students who get additional time to take tests under a provision of the Federal Civil Rights law known as a 504 accommodation.

When both educators and parents were asked about students on 504 plans or individual educational plans (IEP), they agree an active parent community is one of the reasons the youth of Deerfield get more attention than others in the state.

“Deerfield is a community that has always been known for special education,” Harry Steindler said. Two of Steindler’s three children received services while in local schools. Two are grown and one is a junior at Deerfield High School. “People move here for that reason.”

Parent involvement is a key element funneling assistance to students who need them, according to District 113 Director of Student Support Services Andrea Gratz. “Obviously we live in a community where we have good (parent) advocacy,” she said.

There are two avenues to identify children needing 504 or IEP assistance, according to District 113 Director of Student Support Services Andrea Gratz. Either teachers recognize a potential issue or parents bring it to the school’s attention.

Some Parents Spur Plans

Approximately half the students who ultimately get services at Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools do so because of an outside referral, according to Gratz. This does not include students who already received services in Deerfield Public Schools District 109. “If they came to us with a 504 or IEP, we don’t know how it originated,” she said.

When teachers or other school professionals recognize a need, they start the process and involve the parents. Sometimes, a parent makes a request after getting a private evaluation from a psychologist or other professional, according to Gratz.

“If a parent comes to us with an outside evaluation, we have 14 days to respond,” Gratz said. “We gather information from teachers and others involved with the student like social workers.” At that point the district will either implement a plan or monitor the situation.

In Deerfield, there is also an informal community network where people help each other. One of Jodi Shapira’s children has special needs and she has been a strong advocate for him. Others have sought her out.

“There is such a group network,” Shapira said. “You have neighbors who know you have a child with needs. One approached me about her child and now she knows what I know. Her child got services. The schools are very supportive.”

Different Avenues Exist to Identify Needs

In the elementary schools, Jenell Mroz, the director of student services for , is also ready to help any time a need may be observed by a parent or someone in the school community.

“Any person who has a concern about a child can bring the concern to an educational team for review and discussion,” Mroz said. “The initial concern could be raised by a parent, the child's teacher, the school social worker or even the family physician.”

Parent involvement in the schools goes beyond advocacy for children with special needs. According to Steindler, people flock to the schools to assist in different ways.

“When I went to South Park (Elementary School) to read to students and signed in at 10 a.m., there were already 20 parents who signed in before me to do something,” Steindler said. “Everyone here is involved.”

The involvement goes beyond the schools. Steindler explained how quickly people help with other activities like the Deerfield Youth Baseball and Softball Association. “We never have a problem filling our coaching slots,” he said.

In Deerfield, accommodating students with needs is not just about programs, according to Shapira. She is happy with the innovation and ingenuity shown by teachers.

“They think out of the box,” Shapira said referring to some of her children’s teachers. “It’s not so much about money but teachers who are totally invested in the students. They have passion and they go with it.”

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