The Philip J. Rock Center and School’s Struggles To Stay Open

GLEN ELLYN, Ill — Back in April, Illinois’ only school for the blind and deaf students, the Philip J. Rock Center and School, was in jeopardy of shutting down due to the delay of funds from the state.

Then in September, the school was on the verge of shutting down again, this time, permanently.

The Philip J. Rock Center and School is operated by the Illinois State Board of Education and is located in Glen Ellyn.

PRC serves students that have “significant impairments in both vision and hearing” and students between the ages 3-21.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s website, “PRC has an instructional emphasis in the areas of: communication skill development, orientation/mobility training, and a functional life skills curriculum.”

PRC offers residential services all year round and the educational sites include community public school buildings, the PRC building, and the local community college.

When the school has fulfilled the funds given to them by the state, they then use the funds from the federal grant project, “Project Reach: Illinois Deaf-Blind Services.”

According to Michelle Clyne, The Project Reach Coordinator, Project Reach is a federally funded grant that provides information, including ongoing training and coaching to families, schools and other settings that have a child who is deaf-blind.

Clyne says that there are four major goals of Project reach: To increase the skills of service providers receiving technical assistance, to increase the academic performance of children and youth who are deaf-blind, to increase families’ skills in advocacy like meeting the needs of their children and lastly to increase the use of evidence based practices and universal supports throughout Illinois to increase access to the general education curriculum.

Clyne who is not only the Project coordinator but also a deaf-blind specialist, says that as specialists, they all have degrees in the education of person with sensory impairments, additional training in deaf-blindness and additional related issues.

“Our job is really more like a “coach” than a consultant,” she says. “Our goals are to give families and teachers the tools they need to provide a great learning opportunity to children.”

When the school was on the verge of shutting down back in April, they thought that would be the last time they had to worry about something like that.

Unfortunately, the school faced similar issues a few months later in September.

The only school for the deaf and blind kids was running out of funds to pay their staff so they were losing teachers, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Many families feared that their children would have no place to go where they could receive constant care under a specialist. The parents who relied on the school to watch and take care of their children while they were at work panicked as they were unsure of what the future of the school was.

After a few days, the school finally received some good news as they were financially reprieved from Governor Quinn.

“My child doesn’t attend the Philip J. Rock Center and School but if they did, I would be afraid of how I would take care of my children,” says 31-year-old Dawn Piacentini.

Piacentini is a stay at home mom due to an anxiety and panic disorder that she has.

She has two disabled children, Brianna and Anthony, both of who have cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

“It’s very hard because even though I’m a stay at home mom, my kids need me all of the time,” she says. “I want to make them feel okay but sometimes I can’t.”

Piacentini says that one of the biggest struggles that she has that she believes other parents might have, is the fact that “I can’t get certain equipment that my children need because my house is not suitable for it.”

If PRC were to have closed, many parents would be in similar situations as Piacentini as she says that the wheelchairs her children need “don’t fit in my hallways and doorways,” and that she doesn’t have “enough money to make my house handicap accessible,” she says.

Julie Soon, 43, has two daughters, Sonia and Nigella. Sonia is two years old and was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

While Soon has a little bit of time to worry about schools for Sonia, she is already worrying for the future.

When parents are relying on schools such as PRC to lend a helping hand, what will their option be if it shuts down?

“The struggles I have is worrying about who’s going to take care of my Sonia when I’m old,” she says.

PRC might have dodged a bullet this time but if the state continues at the pace they’re at right now, Clyne believes that families may be in serious trouble.

“If the program were to close, intense technical assistance and time would be needed to find or design similar programs across the state, perhaps in programs that have never worked with a child who is deaf-blind,” says Clyne.

“Families would need to find or create supports in their home or other settings that would meet the care needs of their children,” adds Clyne. “This will then lead students to miss out on learning the crucial skills that will help them when they become adults.”

Members of the Illinois State Board of Education could not be reached for comment.

by Sue Jo, Contributing Reporter