Alternative education opportunities offer second chance

Regional Safe School programs allow students with personal or disciplinary problems to continue pursuing diploma


Michael Munda

Students at Regional Safe Schools, regardless of circumstances, are still able to continue coursework in classrooms like the one shown above.

Twenty years ago, a student caught selling drugs at an Illinois school could be expelled, marking the end of their high school career. Other than resorting to a private school if they could afford it, they would have no means to get a diploma, nor any way to truly make up for the education they lost out on.

That’s where Illinois state legislators stepped in, establishing a program called Regional Safe Schools, which guarantees that all students, regardless of their circumstances, have the option to pursue a diploma, Michael Munda, principal of the Lake County Regional Safe School, said.

The Regional Safe School program was created to allow students between grades 6 to 12 who may have experienced problems at their local public school, whether personal or disciplinary, to continue their school work, Steve Tucker, dean of students, said.

That said, in the case of expulsion, a student may be sent to a juvenile detention facility in lieu of an alternative education program if the issue ends up involving the police, Sarah Bowen, director of student services, said.

The Lake County Regional Safe School, located 30 miles away from Stevenson, serves all respective public schools in the Lake County area. While the student body size has fluctuated up to a record of 98 students in the past, the school currently hosts 40. Because of what has become a 67% budget decrease, the school now charges a small fee per student to any school that sends students, Munda said.

While there, students are typically able to continue whatever coursework they were taking at Stevenson, though there are rare exceptions, Tucker said.

“The counseling department at Stevenson maintains close communication with the staff at the Safe School, so we can really do our best to make sure that the academic transition is as seamless as possible,” Bowen said.

But the Regional Safe School is about much more than just academics, Munda said. He believes that in many cases, it can give students who have made a poor choice in the past the completely new start that they need.

“The main focus for students at [the Regional Safe School], beyond ensuring that they receive an opportunity to continue their education, is working with specialized staff to deal with social skills that may have caused them to join our school,” Munda said.

With that in mind, there are incentives in place to help students along the way. Depending on the circumstances under which the student had to leave Stevenson under, there may be options for the student to participate in Stevenson events, whether in athletics, clubs or attending school dances, Bowen said.

Due to privacy concerns, Statesman was unable to speak with a student from the Lake County Regional Safe School for this article.