Garrison School Sees Diminished Police Presence After New Training & Procedures Implement; Gets New Admin; Four Rivers Currently Working Through OCR Complaints

By Benjamin Cox on February 23, 2023 at 9:29am

The fallout of a joint report by ProPublica and Chicago Tribune published in December on the Garrison School in Jacksonville is still being felt.

The Four Rivers Special Education Board of Directors met yesterday afternoon to hear about some of the changes being made at the school so local police would not be having a constant presence on the grounds for incidents of crisis. According to the December in-depth investigative report, Jacksonville Police officers had arrested students at Garrison more than 100 times in the last five school years.

Garrison began new policies and programs in November to make the district more therapeutic on site and less reactionary to student behaviors and outcomes. Now, acting Garrison School administrator Amy Haarmann says that one of the current new procedures is all about helping students stay in the classroom and advert a documented crisis call: “We started the on-call social worker in November, and what it is, we have 3 social workers on staff, two actual social workers and the other is a social work intern. They take turns being the social worker on call. All they do during the day they are on call is triage and push in to classrooms and pull students out of classrooms that are struggling before they become huge incidents, or before they get combative, or unregulated.”

Haarmann says it has greatly reduced the need for police on the grounds since it was implemented in November: “There’s been no arrests since we’ve started this program. There has been citations for fighting between students [issued by the police]. They have come to assist us 4 times for de-escalation.” According to a chart handed out by Haarmann during the meeting, prior to the program starting on November 16th and since the start of the school year in August, officers had arrested 4 students.

Haarmann noted during the meeting that the on-call social worker and in-class interventions has cut down on the number of crisis incidents reported at the school. According to further data provided during the meeting, prior to the new program, between August 17th and November 15th of last year, Garrison documented 578 incidents of crisis. After the program’s start, that number has dropped to 314 incidents since November 16th and this passed Friday.

Haarmann is now taking over as administrator of Garrison School, as Denise Waggener tenured her resignation officially on Wednesday, which will be effective June 30th. The Four Rivers Board of Directors approved both changes after a 45-minute executive session on Wednesday.

Four Rivers Administrator Tracy Fair says no specific reason was given in communication by Waggener with Four Rivers as to the reason why she is leaving the post.

Also on the agenda during Wednesday’s hearing was the mention of an Office of Civil Rights complaint filed by a member of the public. Fair says they are in the process of completing the requirements by OCR to resolve the issue: “It was a complaint that the website wasn’t fully accessible to people with visual impairments due to different pixelation, color, contrast, etc. There were many things like that which needed fixed. We are working with our IT person that maintains our website to make those corrections. We are working with our OCR representative, and she is going to be monitoring all of that to get it resolved.”

Fair says that a second complaint filed by the Office of Civil Rights was issued from the office itself on Friday possibly based upon information in the ProPublica-Chicago Tribune article in December: “I don’t know anything yet or any of the information contained in the complaint. I just received the notice on Friday. All they told the attorney was that it wasn’t a complaint from a complainant. It was just that maybe they had seen the article and so OCR is investigating that on their own.”

In a follow-up email after the WLDS News report was released yesterday afternoon, Garrison School founder Dr. Beverly Johns said in email communication that she had been in contact with Fair to offer free help and training on positive behavior management to Garrison. Johns says she’s also offered to pay for paraprofessionals to attend a virtual behavior disorders conference that was held a couple of weeks ago, but no one from Garrison attended according to Johns. Johns says that she ultimately remains committed to helping Garrison and Four Rivers Special Education District in any way that she can.