New law will assist school for children with autism to take field trips

Field trips are an important part of any student’s education. There is nothing quite like visiting a museum, historic site or other outside venue that helps expand a student’s horizons and knowledge of the curriculum they are studying in school.

But for students at one school in Lombard, state law prevented them from being able to have that experience. That is, until their executive director worked with State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) to make a change.

Soaring Eagle Academy in Lombard is a not-for-profit, therapeutic day school which caters to the unique educational needs of autistic children. “Soaring Eagle Academy serves students from 40 different municipalities through a curriculum that was developed through guidelines set by the Illinois State Board of Education,” Breen said. “The school addresses the physical, intellectual, social and emotional needs of autistic students, and it is important that all of their students can benefit from off-site, curriculum-based learning opportunities.”

Under the existing state law which governed transporting students, Soaring Eagle Academy could only use their multi-purpose bus to transport students in grades 9-12; the younger students were being left out. The school had to go to the expense of chartering a bus for them instead of using the bus they already owned.

Soaring Eagle Academy’s Executive Director, Deanna Tyrpak, who co-founded the school in 2010 along with her fellow speech language pathologists Linda Cervenka and Michele Ricamato, brought the matter to Breen’s attention.

“Our school serves students with autism and flexibility is an essential component of our work,” Tyrpak said.

Two years ago, the Illinois Vehicle Code was amended to allow six Illinois schools with Kindergarten through 12th grade students who had Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to transport those students in their multi-function school activity bus for any curriculum-related activity. In April 2018, Breen introduced an amendment to House Bill 2040 to add Soaring Eagle Academy to the list.

“Not all learning takes place within the walls of schools, and students should have access to curriculum-related, vocational and recreational activities that compliment what they’re learning in their classrooms,” Breen said.

The Soaring Eagle bill passed the House by a vote of 110-0, and then the Senate 40-1. It was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on August 3.

“Thanks to Representative Breen’s advocacy, we will now be able to use our multifunction school activity bus to transport our students on academically and socially-relevant field trips,” Tyrpak said after the bill passed. “Being able to use our own bus will give us flexibility, convenience, and cost-saving benefit of frequent outings, which is such a positive experience for our students. Representative Breen is a true advocate for children with autism and we are extremely grateful.”