Empty school hallway

SPRINGFIELD – Following the closure of Rich East High School in 2020, State Senator Patrick Joyce (D-Essex) moved a measure through the Senate Education Committee Tuesday to prevent schools from closing without public input.

“Closing a neighborhood school is not only an educational issue, but a community issue as well,” Joyce said. “When schools close in rural communities, it can mean kids have to travel much farther to get to class every day—that can take a toll on students and their families.”

In 2019, District 227 was faced with the decision to close one or more of their three schools due to a lack of funding, declining enrollment and aging facilities. The Rich Township High School District in Cook County voted to close Rich East High School, which served Matteson, Park Forest, Olympia Fields, Chicago Heights and Richton Park residents. This decision forced these students to move to either Rich Central or Rich South High Schools.

Joyce understood that many people in the community were upset by the closure and that Rich East families felt left out of the decision-making process, motivating him to introduce legislation to change the way school boards handle such decisions.

Under Joyce’s legislation, school boards would be required to hold at least three public hearings to discuss the decision to close a school building and to receive input from the community. At least ten days prior to each hearing, the school board must publish a notice on its website listing the time, date, place and name or description of the school building considered to be closed.

School boards would not be required to hold hearings if the school building is deemed unsafe, unsanitary, or unfit for occupancy.

“When a decision has the potential to impact our kids and the communities we live in, the public should have a chance to provide input,” Joyce said. “This legislation will provide transparency and ensure community members’ voices are heard when making decisions that will affect our students’ education.”

House Bill 1785 moves to the Senate floor for further consideration.