October 2, 2008

Edward to Close Its Special Ed Program Decision Means 22 Staffers to Lose Jobs; Parents Scramble to Place Kids

By Jake Griffin

[email protected]@dailyherald.com

Citing budgetary challenges, Edward Hospital officials announced Thursday they are shuttering a special education program that serves 38 students from 17 area school districts.

Edward Academy will cease operations June 11, which coincides with the end of the school year, hospital officials said. The hospital will cut 22 jobs as well.

The day school is run out of the adjacent Linden Oaks Hospital campus in Naperville.

The school specializes in behavioral health programs. The programs work with students between first and eighth grades who have emotional and behavioral difficulties, officials said.

Some parents complained the hospital didn't provide enough notice for them to enroll their children in other summer education programs and they may even struggle to find fall placement.

"We're working closely with the families and the school districts," said Mary Lou Mastro, Linden Oaks president. "This is very sensitive."

Naperville Unit District 203 Special Education Director Nancy Lullo said the announcement came out of the blue.

"We were totally taken by surprise by this announcement and it will affect a small number of our students," she said, "particularly for summer school."

Mastro said the hospital will find placement for students seeking summer enrollment and will work with families to find new programs for next fall.

The decision to end the academy program is part of an overall decision to cease most mental health programming for children at the hospital. Outpatient psychiatric services for children still will be available, Mastro said.

"Child services is the smallest and most difficult to maintain," she said. "We're facing operating losses and shrinking reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, so we needed to close the program in order to ensure the long-term viability of other services."

Bed and programming space that was once allotted for children 12 and younger will now go to adolescent services for youngsters between 13 and 18, Mastro said.

"We are really growing in adolescent and adult populations," she said.

Naperville-based Little Friends Inc. President and CEO Jack Ryan said his organization would be willing to help find placement for some of the displaced students. But since his group's educational programs are geared toward youngsters with developmental disabilities, he is certain Little Friends won't be able to accommodate all the families.

"With any program that ends it's a loss to the community," he said.

Mike Volpe, director of the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County, said the families will find it tough to get into summertime programs. But he praised Edward's eight-year academy program and said he is sorry to see it end.

He added that while it may be an easier task finding placement in the fall, many of the students likely will find the adjustment challenging.

"I do feel for those families," he said.

Volpe also said it might be tough for the 22 employees to find new jobs in the immediate area, but they likely can find employment in the region.

"Our type of organizations are always looking to fill vacancies," he said.

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