School board candidate under fire for comments - FOX 32 News Chicago

School board candidate under fire for comments on new special needs facility

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

FOX 32 NEWS EXCLUSIVE: Wheaton-Warrenville school district officials say they desperately need to replace a 55-year-old building that's used to care for special needs children, but one board candidate angered a lot of parents when she argued it would hurt taxpayers by attracting more special needs kids to the community.

Jan Shaw says she stands behind her comments at last month's District 200 school board meeting, where she's running to become a board member.

Shaw spoke against a $17 million proposal to replace the Jefferson Early Learning Center with a new school building that would provide space for 50% more special needs students.

"Don't build a magnet that's going to be pulling more special needs children into the district that we're going to have to educate the whole way through," Shaw said.

Finny Rajchel is a Wheaton resident with two special needs children. He's among a number of parents who say they're stunned by Shaw's comments.

"I was simply shocked, surprised," Rajchel says about Shaw's comments. "To have someone in power that would have that mindset would be a disservice to all of our community…we've had some friends that have moved to other school districts because they're more sensitive to kids with special needs and I think it would actually build the property values in our town if we were to have a special needs facility."

A video produced by District 200 shows some of the problems with the current facility: hallways too narrow for wheelchairs, inadequate bathrooms, no air conditioning, and so little space that they're forced to use a janitor's closet for teaching.

"The current building we're in was not designed to be functioning as we're currently using it, for three and 4-year-old children with significant cognitive and physical disabilities," Dr. Brian Harris says.

When asked if she can see how some of her comments could have been interpreted as offensive, Shaw says, "I could see somebody who's got special needs kids who wants everything for their child saying somebody told me no. How dare you say no to the poor little child? Of course those kids need to be educated. I understand that...but I also think somebody needs to represent the taxpayers around here."

Shaw is one of nine candidates running for four school board seats. Later this month, the Wheaton-Warrenville board is expected to put the question of building that new school on the ballot as a referendum and let taxpayers decide whether the $17 million building is really needed.

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