Plans to relocate DeKalb District 428 transition program head to DeKalb City Council for approval

DeKalb city commission green lights District 428 permit request to move transition program to 530 Charter St.

Kyle Gerdes, DeKalb School District 428's director of student services, speaks at the Feb. 20, 2024 meeting of the DeKalb Planning and Zoning Commission.

DeKALB – Plans to find a new home for DeKalb School District 428′s Transition Program were met favorably by a DeKalb panel this week, and those plans are now set to go before the DeKalb City Council on Monday.

The Transition Program is dedicated to serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities ages 18 to 22. The program has been based at DeKalb High School for several years.

The DeKalb City Council still needs to weigh in on the district’s plans and its rezoning and special use permit requests concerning the property at 530 Charter St. The location used to house a child care center in the 1990s, and before that was a church, according to city documents.

Discussion on this topic has risen at multiple public meetings of the DeKalb School District 428 board in recent months.

The school board first authorized the district’s administration to begin a search for property in October 2023.

Kyle Gerdes, the district’s director of student services, said it’s clear that the Transition Program needs a new space to call its own. Gerdes said District 428 hopes to model other communities that have opened up transitional programs to embed residential or community college components, often helpful for program participants who are young adults.

“Best practice for us to be able to provide the best possible programming for students in the program is to really immerse them in the community of which they already live and in some cases already work, but to really have those real world applications to practice those vocational skills,” Gerdes said. “We just can’t model it very well in a high school classroom setting.”

The City Council is expected to put the district’s request matter to a final vote during its regular meeting, set for 6 p.m. Monday in the Yusunas Meeting Room at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St.

When the district was part of the DeKalb County Special Education Association Cooperative, its special education programming convened in a residential house along Ellwood Avenue in DeKalb. That house was used by the multiple districtws in the county, school board documents show. It provided a space for students to practice their adult daily living skills working toward independence.

It wasn’t until during the 2008-09 school year, however, that the cooperative dissolved and a decision was made to relocate the transition program to DeKalb High School, school board documents show.

Gerdes said the district has vetted other potential locations as options to relocate its Transition Program over the years.

He said sites at Northern Illinois University, the Kishwaukee Education Consortium, Kishwaukee College, other residential locations and storefronts have been put into consideration.

The district intends to enter into a lease purchase agreement to obtain the right to occupy the Charter Street property for $3,850 per month, according to school board documents.

The district also has the option to purchase the property at the expiration of the 24-month contract set forth by state law without holding a referendum so long as the purchase price of $315,000 and any closing costs are paid.

City Commissioner Steve Becker questioned if the district has experienced challenges with promoting both the safety of high school students and Transition Program students.

Gerdes said the district doesn’t have any significant safety concerns.

The Transition Program is traditionally capped at 13 students, school officials said.

DeKalb resident Allison Anderson said she is mainly concerned for safety of surrounding residents in the neighborhood.

“My major concern would be behavioral issues,” Anderson said. “I have a 3-year-old daughter. We play outside. We play in the backyard. I understand there might be a fence. But at the same time, it’s a concern.”

Gerdes replied, saying Anderson should rest assured.

“When we think about how our program is operated in our high school, we have never had concerns of student safety or staff safety in that program based on the student needs,” Gerdes said. “This is a program that really is more about developing independent functional living skills – how to take care of an apartment, how to brush your teeth, how to get up on time, [how to] read a bus schedule. This is not a program that really has a lot of significant behavioral supports that are required to make sure that students are successful and safe. That said, it does require supervision and teaching.”

City Planner Dan Olson said city staff supports the school district’s requests.

“We believe the impacts will be … no less than the childcare center,” Olson said. “It won’t hurt property values since it’s been a commercial use since the mid-90s and a church prior to that.”

The panel decided to greenlight the district’s requests with a set of conditions. Those include: the establishment of a 6-foot high privacy fence; striping and handicap accessible spaces with signage in the parking lot; no overnight stays; and the special use permit authorized for the former childcare center would expire upon occupancy of the building.

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