Madison school board approves buying $4.5 million building for Intensive Intervention Programs

The Madison Metropolitan School Board approved the purchase of a $4.5 million building to house its Intensive Intervention Programs on Monday.

The decision came after many people spoke during public comment opposing the idea for fear it would lead to segregation of students with disabilities.

Andrea Ruppar, an assistant professor in special education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, urged board members not approve the purchase, saying the Madison Metropolitan School District has been becoming less inclusive for students with disabilities over the years.

“Opening a school like this would be the nail in the coffin for inclusive education in Madison,” Ruppar said.

#BREAKING The @MMSDschools approved the purchase of a building to house its Intensive Intervention Programs. People against the purchase worry it will lead to segregation of students with disabilities. Board Pres said that is not the purpose nor the plan. #News3Now

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) December 17, 2019

The district currently houses the programs in a rental unit on Olin Avenue. The district said 2 percent of students with disabilities in MMSD are enrolled in these programs and most return to traditional schooling in a year or less. Advocates for the purchase said the kids who use these programs deserve a permanent home.

Nicki Vander Meulen, a member of the school board, was vocal in her opposition to buying the building. She argued the building – which does not have an elevator – is not compliant with federal law and would segregate students. She encouraged others with an opinion to speak at the board meeting Monday night, where she ultimately voted against the purchase. She was joined by the board’s vice president Kate Toews and treasurer Cris Carusi.

“You learn better when you’re with your peers,” Vander Meulen said. “Your peers learn better when they’re with you. They learn from the disabled, the disabled learn from them. How do we expect the disabled to learn if they aren’t able to model anything?”

People filled ⁦@MMSDschools⁩ board meeting tonight, asking the district to reconsider purchasing a building to house intensive intervention programs. Parents are worried this will lead to segregating students with disabilities. #News3Now pic.twitter.com/axIc10SQ7y

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) December 17, 2019

Sara White, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, said she was segregated when going to school and doesn’t want that to happen to other kids.

“I myself have a master’s degree and was told after earning it that if I didn’t have disabilities I’d be working,” White said. “That’s still going to happen guys, and if getting the job is finding my way to fight you guys on what’s going on with this building, so be it.”

Many who spoke during public comment questioned why the board would move forward with this purchase before an evaluation of the programs it would serve.

Ananda Mirilli proposed an amendment – which later passed – that would prevent the programs from expanding to high school students until the district conducts a thorough evaluation of the programs. Currently the programs include only elementary and middle school students. The amendment stipulates that the evaluation must be presented to the board and include the outcomes and sustaining successful transition of students to their home school. The amendment also requires a plan for the incorporation of sustainable energy and for a playground to be built at the new school.

Before the vote, multiple board members acknowledged how complicated this topic is, saying they want to balance helping students impacted by providing them permanent space while also not segregating them from their peers.

Board President Gloria Reyes said she sees this purchase as an opportunity to do better for the students in the programs.

“(This purchase) moves us in the direction of having our kids in a space they deserve,” she said.

The district is attempting to close the deal on the property in February or March 2020. Vander Meulen said the space could be usable as early as 2021.

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