WEST TOWN — A school that exclusively serves special education students in need of therapeutic services is slated to close, a decision made official at the Chicago Board of Education's final ruling on school closures Wednesday.
In one fell swoop, CPS board voted to shutter 50 schools, including Near North Elementary School at 739 W. Ada St. in West Town.
The historic decision comes after months of debate and meetings to winnow the list of "underutilized" schools down to 54, an effort led by the six-person board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to hold public votes.
Citywide the closures will impact tens of thousands of schoolchildren, including 88 at Near North School, which has a student population that's predominantly African American, with 90 percent low-income and 10 percent described as "limited English learners" according to CPS.
In a hearing officer's report, Raspberry said many of the students at Near North are on medication to manage mental health challenges such as bipolar disorders, ADHA, depression, oppositional defiance, emotional explosiveness, conduct disorders and schizophrenia.
At a February public meeting, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) charged that "CPS wants to privatize special -ed."
"How they are reacting to kids with special needs is morally reprehensible," Fioretti said.
Karyn Aguirre, a social worker, testified that the change would affect children emotionally, socially and academically, and that they would become "confused, anxious, frustrated, scared and experience difficulty learning."
Hearing Officer Cheryl Stark's detailed report said, "The greatest concern of parents and educators is the disruption that this move will cause for fragile students with special needs who do not take well to changes."
Stark also wrote, "The Board will have to ensure that a great deal of resources is available for this tremendous undertaking."
Stark also found validity in concerns of parents and the community about the reputation of Montefiore, and its "long and negative history," before suggesting a name change of the school.
At an April hearing, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) noted that at Near North, 70 percent of students are on medication, some for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
"The Board of Education has treated [Near North] as a stepchild. We shouldn't treat them unfairly," Burnett said.
In March, a Near North teacher who asked not to be named, said that "short and simple, my biggest concern is for the kids. It is a big transition."
Editor's note: Burnett was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.