Belvidere, N. Boone leaders speak out on special education lawsuit - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Belvidere, N. Boone leaders speak out on special education lawsuit

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Belvidere Superintendent Michael Houselog calls the lawsuit "without merit." He says the coop's joint agreement allows either school district to pull back services. Belvidere Superintendent Michael Houselog calls the lawsuit "without merit." He says the coop's joint agreement allows either school district to pull back services.
N. Boone School Board President Donald Ward says the lawsuit is about protecting the district's special needs kids. N. Boone School Board President Donald Ward says the lawsuit is about protecting the district's special needs kids.

By Marissa Alter

BOONE COUNTY (WREX) - We hear from both sides on camera about a lawsuit that pits one school district against a neighboring one over special education services. We first told you Friday that the North Boone School District sued Belvidere, claiming Belvidere took illegal action to dismantle the Boone County Special Education Cooperative.

The Cooperative has been around for roughly 30 years. It's a way for Belvidere and North Boone to pool resources and provide services for about 230 special needs students, most of them from Belvidere.

Belvidere Superintendent Michael Houselog calls the suit "without merit. What we have done is exercise the premise of the joint agreement. And specifically, the joint agreement says prior to February 1 of any year, either district has the right to take back certain programs they want to take back."

Houselog says the district wants to integrate those kids into neighborhood schools if possible. "We're one of only a few of those segregated special ed facilities around. And we're very interested in having our kids receive the least restrictive option."

Ann Risen, Boone County Cooperative Special Education Director says, "At Belvidere's March [school] board meeting, they basically hired a majority of the coop staff to provide pretty much the exact same programs and services for their students. Then the Coop Board at its March board meeting accepted resignations of those staff members."

North Boone says Belvidere didn't follow the proper procedures to pull out of the coop. According to its lawsuit, the Illinois School Code requires that school districts follow an extensive review process before taking actions to leave a special education cooperative, which Belvidere ignored.

Now North Boone students are left without access to needed programs. "We're out there fighting to make sure they get that quality education," explains North Boone School Board President Donald Ward. "Belvidere students will utilize basically the same program, but the North Boone students are somewhat left out in the cold."

The lawsuit asks the court keep Belvidere in the coop for next year.

Superintendent Houselog says Belvidere offered to allow North Boone students access to Belvidere's special ed programs, but North Boone hasn't responded.

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