Parents concerned over future of program for special needs

Tri-County School serves 2,800 kids in Jackson, Perry, and Union counties in Illinois, with 400 of those students in small special needs classrooms where kids can receive hands-on instruction.

Edward and Jerica Rivera’s son didn’t learn how to speak until he was 5 years old. In their old home in California he was able to go to special school, but once the family moved to Carbondale things changed.

“They didn’t have a facility for him, so for three months he sat in a classroom where he didn’t understand anything that was going on,” Jerica said. “He hated going to school. He was being bullied. He cried.”

The Riveras say their son’s outlook on school changed when he was placed in the R.E.A.C.H. program at Tri-County.

“He got with a great teacher who taught him everything that he needs to know at the pace he needs to learn and finally comprehend and understand everything,” Edward said. “To know that all of that is going to get taken away, that’s just not satisfactory with a parent. It’s not good with us.”

Tri-County Director Chuck Hamilton heard from numerous concerned parents Wednesday, but says the school is bound by state and federal laws to put R.E.A.C.H. students back into local districts.

“We’re developing plans on how to deliver the same or similar services closer to the home school district,” Hamilton said. “There will be individual districts out there that may only have one student in need.”

While districts weigh their options parents like Christie Konkel, whose daughter has autism, have already made up their minds.

“If they do not keep the R.E.A.C.H. program, then she will probably be homeschooled or I will find somebody to homeschool her,” Konkel said.

If a school district decides it can’t provide an adequate education for a child from the R.E.A.C.H. program, the child may be allowed to stay at Tri-County.

The Tri-County Board will decide how to move forward with R.E.A.C.H. at its June 5 meeting.

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