12-Year-Old Boy With Special Needs Returns to School

A boy with autism who is involved in a legal battle with Chicago Public Schools has returned to the suburban therapeutic school where his family and supporters said he made considerable progress in recent years.

Oliwier “Oli” Kluzik, 12, is back at the School of Expressive Arts and Learning (SEAL) in Lombard after spending weeks at home. The school told NBC 5 Investigates it worked out a payment plan with Oli’s family.

Oli’s grandmother filed a due process complaint against CPS with the Illinois State Board of Education in order to keep Oli at the Lombard school. The family argued CPS should pay for the tuition.

“We are hopeful CPS will do the right thing here for Oli and the 50,000 special education students they serve," said special education attorney Sabrina Shafer. "Sadly however, their actions do not seem to indicate they will, at least thus far.” 

Oli and his older brother Dorian, 18, lost their mother to cancer in January. The brothers moved from suburban Bartlett to Chicago’s Northwest Side to live with their grandmother.

Oli’s family and supporters said SEAL best serves his Individual Education Plan (IEP). School districts that send special needs students to schools like SEAL get reimbursed by the state.

SEAL is not a contracted vendor of Chicago Public Schools. CPS instead has suggested three specialized schools on its vendor list.

But Oli’s special education advocate contacted the three schools and was informed that they could not provide all of the services required by Oli’s IEP.

According to Shafer, a team of autism experts said any school besides SEAL would be “detrimental” to Oli.

In an emailed statement to NBC 5 Investigates, CPS said it is committed to helping families find the schools that are right for their children.

“CPS works to accommodate family requests when parents and guardians express an interest in sending their child to a therapeutic school that is not on our vendor list,” said CPS spokesperson Michael Passman. “If not schools that are active vendors can implement a student’s IEP, the district works to find an ISBE approved school that can implement the IEP and then works to establish the school as a vendor.”

On its website, CPS said there are two ways to become a vendor, to receive a contract award or obtain a CPS principal, network chief or department director level sponsorship.

“CPS has known since May that Oliver needed SEAL, if not earlier,” Shafer said.

A spokesperson for SEAL said its protocol is for school districts to contact them.

Oli’s due process hearing is not expected to take place until late January. That may be the earliest the state rules on whether CPS should or should not coordinate Oli’s education at SEAL.

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