District 160: Special ed student ready to 'move on'

Martin Bertucci Jr., better known as Mark, longs to continue learning.

Bertucci, a 19-year-old special education student, wants to keep attending Stockton High School. However, Stockton School District 160 officials said he’s met Illinois and district graduation requirements. Therefore, Bertucci must find new educational opportunities elsewhere, District 160 Superintendent Kevin Sullivan said.

Citing the Illinois State Board of Education, Sullivan said once a student meets those requirements, he or she “must move on.”

Northwestern Illinois Center for Independent Living’s Hispanic Coordinator and Parent Advocate Carlos Munoz disagrees. “He has the right to attend until he is 21,” Munoz said. Munoz said Bertucci’s parents reached an agreement with District 160 last year, which would have allowed Bertucci to remain a Stockton High School student through his 21st birthday. But he quoted a special education teacher stating, during a March 27 Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting, that Bertucci was prepared to survive on his own.

“He’s not ready at all,” Munoz said.

If Bertucci were given a $50 bill to buy a can of pop, according to Munoz, he couldn’t figure out whether he got the correct change. Munoz said Bertucci can’t even fill out a job application. His mother, Janina, concurs, noting Mark needs to improve his reading and writing skills.

Munoz disputed Sullivan’s claim that Mark met all graduation requirements, noting he hasn’t taken geography or speech.

Though Mark intends to go on with his education, he wanted to take part in graduation ceremonies. Janina alleged Sullivan requested Mark not attend. Sullivan denied the claim: “We expected him to be there.” He said there was a diploma waiting for him, which is still in his office.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Public Information Officer Meta Minton said state law doesn’t guarantee special education students the right to attend school until age 21. Minton said a student’s IEP dictates when a special education student ends his or her schooling. She said the student must have an IEP and transition plan, which specifies a graduation date.

According to state law, Minton said, a student’s parents must be advised he or she is on track to graduate at least one year prior to graduation. Parents can file a complaint with the ISBE’s Special Education Services Department, if the IEP didn’t indicate a graduating time, there was no transition plan or if the parents weren’t notified properly.

From the Sept. 6-12, 2006, issue

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