Special Education

Welcome to the homepage for the East Peoria High School Special Education Services Department!  East Peoria School District #309 provides a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities in accordance with state and federal mandates.  

Life Skills & Life Academy: Progress Over Perfection

1/17/24 - By Alyssa Graves

Led by a group of passionate and committed special education teachers, Life Skills and Life Academy are programs designed to support students in different phases of their educational journey, enabling them to adjust gradually to adult life before graduation.


The Life Skills program focuses on offering functional academics for high school-aged students. These students engage in practical learning experiences such as reading menus and receipts, shopping, and preparing for life after graduation. The program aims to equip students with essential skills for their post-graduate experiences.


Life Academy caters to students in the 18-22 age group, emphasizing functional community academics, community access, and independent living skills. The program prioritizes finding employment opportunities for students before graduation and, if needed, offers pre-vocational training. The goal is to prepare students for a successful transition to independence beyond their high school years.


Throughout the year, Life Skills and Life Academy students are also granted the opportunity to participate in a variety of events and field trips that they may not have otherwise been able to experience. From bowling to trying out new board games to attending the Nutcracker ballet to Rivermen games, the students always leave with lasting memories made possible by parent donation and department fundraising. 


Benefitting both the curriculum and their students, Life Skills and Life Academy engage in fundraising activities that teach them valuable pre-vocational skills. A favorite among staff of these year-long fundraising initiatives is the “Coffee Bean,” which offers employees a generous menu of coffee shop items delivered to their rooms each Tuesday and Thursday morning. Other initiatives include periodic Popcorn Pop-Up Shops, baking and selling Dog Treats, and more. The funds generated support classroom supplies and activities, reinforcing the importance of financial independence and self-sustainability.


For teachers Tracey Carlson and Erika Ridge, Life Skills is not just a program; it's the best job in the school. They encourage the community to embrace and support these hardworking students, emphasizing that they want to be part of the community and contribute meaningfully just as much as any general education student.

Special Services and Support

In order to receive special education services, a student must have a physical or mental disability as identified in the Illinois State Criteria. The qualifying disabilities are Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech/Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. 

 

In addition, a qualifying disability must adversely impact educational progress and require specially designed instruction. It is important to note that not all students with a disability will be eligible for special education services.  

The goal of special education and related services is to support each eligible student and address identified individual needs. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan is developed in collaboration with parents, general education teachers, and when required, special education staff.  IEP and 504 meetings are scheduled annually or more often if needed.  


East Peoria High School provides a full continuum of services in the areas of Special Education Individualized Education Programs and Section 504 plans.  These services are provided to students who meet specific eligibility requirements outlined by  Federal and State rules and Regulations.  Decisions regarding implementation of services are determined by IEP and 504 teams.  


Students with disabilities who do not qualify for an individualized education program under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, may qualify for services under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 if the student (i) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of a physical or mental impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having a physical or mental impairment.  See below for more information on 504 plans.

 Questions about the identification, assessment and placement of students should be directed to Jill Thornton, Director of Special Services.


Below are links to special education sites through the Illinois State Board of Education that provide further information for special education services.

Understanding Special Education in Illinois

Understanding Special Education in Illinois (Spanish) 

Procedural Safeguards

Behavioral Interventions Policy and Procedures 

Special Education and Related Services

East Peoria High School provides the special education and related services as identified by the IEP team. Services and supports provide specially designed instruction to meet the educational needs and goals identified by the IEP team.  Related services are designed to support students in benefitting from special education and include but are not limited to social work, psychological services, speech/language therapy, transportation, assistive technology, occupational and physical therapy, and adaptive physical education.  It is important to note that related services are determined based on educational needs and differ in eligibility and services provided within a medical model.

The District maintains related service logs that document the type and number of minutes of related service administered under a student’s individualized education program (IEP).  These related service logs are available to parents/guardians at a student’s annual review IEP meeting.  Parents/guardians may also request a copy of any IEP related service log maintained for their child.  Please direct any requests for a copy of a related service log for your child to the Director of Special Services.

Continuum of Services:

A full continuum of services is available for all students who qualify for special education. Students with disabilities may receive services exclusively in the general education classroom or within a residential setting, with many other options in between. Services and supports are individually designed by the IEP team and aligned to the educational needs of the student.

The vast majority of our students receive services within East Peoria High School. Additionally, specialized classrooms are available in the district for students who need additional support. Each of the specialized classrooms provides a smaller student/teacher ratio, increased intensity of services and a focused methodology aligned to student’s needs.

-Within three days of your student’s IEP meeting, the IEP paperwork will be emailed to you for your review.  We will not include paperwork that determines eligibility or educational placement as those are decisions we will make together as an IEP team

-If you prefer your documents be mailed, please notify the special education office at 694-8319.  

-You have the right to review your student’s records at any time


-You have the right to request service logs for related services


-You will be notified if an IEP service is not implemented within ten school days after the service was set to be initiated as set forth in the IEP.

Section 504 Plans

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education. East Peoria District 309 provides a free and appropriate education for students who are eligible for a 504 plan by individually designing accommodations/modifications and or services to meet their educational needs in the same manner as their non-disabled peers. It is important to note that students with a section 504 plan are considered general education students.


In order to be eligible for services under a section 504 plan, a student must have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions.  A mental or physical disability includes but is not limited to: ADHD, anxiety, allergies, asthma, blind, deaf, autism, diabetes, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, visual impairment, depression, bipolar, HIV/AIDS, learning disability, or an emotional disability.  A major life function includes but is not limited to: caring for self, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, working, body functioning.


A team of individuals that have knowledge of the student develops a written plan that identifies the accommodations/modifications and services a student needs to access the general education.

Section 504 legal information below:


https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Special-Education-Civil-Rights.aspx

All Special Education and 504 records will be disposed of five years after the student graduates from high school or leaves the school district.  Notices are placed on the school website and newspaper publications.  Records can be requested by the student at that time.

The District is not responsible for the content and accessibility of external websites linked onto the District’s website. External websites are the sole property of such websites and, as such, the content and accessibility of external websites are the sole responsibility of the entity or entities in control of the content and administration of such website.

Special Education Staff

Adam Binger

Special Education Teacher

abinger@ep309.org

(309) 698-7529

Adam Binger is a part of the Special Education department with 9 years of teaching experience and in his 3rd year at EPCHS. He primarily teaches Special Education Physical Science and Biology. He is also the Head Varsity Girls Basketball Coach. Originally from Roscoe, Illinois, he attended Hoonegah High School before earning a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Social Sciences Education from Carthage College. He is also a certified Learning Behavioral Specialist. He shares, “EPCHS reminds me a lot of the high school and community that I grew up in. It has a great staff that respects the students and does everything it can to help them grow and achieve their goals. Being able to give back to the community that I live in through coaching and teaching is one of the many reasons I enjoy working at EPCHS.” Outside of work, he enjoys traveling, reading books, and spending time with his family. When he isn’t coaching for the high school, you can find him helping out with his sons’ travel sports and his daughter’s travel softball team.

Susan Burdick

Paraprofessional/Job Coach

sburdick@ep309.org

(309) 694-8323

Susan Burdick is a part of the Special Education department as both a Job Coach and Paraprofessional. She taught at EPCHS for 29 years before moving into her new roles. Originally from Peoria, Illinois, she attended Woodruff High School before earning her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Western Illinois University. She also holds a Master’s in Education and Leadership degree from St. Xavier University and a Master’s in Administration from Aurora University. Susan shares that she has loved working at EPCHS and loves to work with the staff and students each day. Outside of work, she loves to read, garden, and spend time with her family. 

Tracey Carlson

Special Education Teacher

tcarlson@ep309.org

(309) 698-7527

Tracey Carlson is a part of the Special Education department and has been a teacher at EPCHS for 17 years. Originally from Pekin, Illinois, she graduated from Pekin High School before earning her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and Special Education from Bradley University. Tracey is passionate about fostering students’ learning through structure, consistency, and engagement, as well as instilling the power of relationship in all that occurs inside the classroom. Outside of work,  she enjoys spending time with family and traveling.

Josh Childs

Special Education Teacher

jchilds@ep309.org

(309) 698-7545

Josh Childs is a part of our Special Education department and has been in teaching for 17 years. Josh teaches Special Education courses, self-contained High School 101, and co-taught Applied Algebra. He is also our Head Girls Soccer coach and is extremely passionate about the EPCHS community. Another EP alum, Mr. Childs graduated from EPCHS in ‘96 before attending ICC and Bradley University to continue his education. Outside of work, he enjoys traveling and spending time with his family.

Teresa Eberle

Special Education Teacher

teberle@ep309.org

(309) 698-7538

Mrs. Eberle graduated from Illinois State University and later attended Walden University where she obtained her Master’s degree in Education. She started her career in 1993 at Pekin High School, and came to East Peoria in 1995. Mrs. Eberle currently teaches English and business classes. Mrs. Eberle has served as a class sponsor, and has been active in various union committees. She and her husband have two children. In her spare time, Mrs. Eberle enjoys exercising, spending time outdoors, watching old movies, reading and spending time with her family and friends.

Nely Hatfield

Special Education Teacher

nhatfield@ep309.org

(309) 698-7565

Nely Hatfield is a member of the Special Education department; she has six years of teaching experience and is entering her third year at EPCHS. Nely primarily teaches English I-II, Life Science, Math and US History in the alternative classroom. Originally from East Peoria, she attended Peoria Christian High School before earning a degree from Illinois State University and a Learning Behavioral Specialist (LBS1) Certification. She shares, “I'm originally from this community and it made a long-lasting impact on my life. I had humble beginnings growing up but I always had teachers from the feeder schools that went above and beyond the role of a teacher. I knew I had a support system that believed in me. It's my goal to pass that same sentiment forward.” Outside of work, she enjoys reading, hiking and spending quality time with friends and family.

Erica Reinhart

Special Education Teacher

ereinhart@ep309.org

(309) 698-7511

Erica Reinhart is a part of the Special Education department at EPCHS with 15 years of teaching experience, all at EPCHS. She primarily teaches and co-teaches English classes both in special education and general education classrooms. Originally from East Peoria, she is a Class of 2003 East Peoria Alumni. She went on to graduate from Illinois State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Special Education, and recently earned her Master of Science degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Literacy from Western Illinois University. She shares, “I'd say that my "why" in terms of teaching is that I enjoy working with students and helping them get to the next stage in their lives, whatever that may be. It's such a unique position to work with kids who are on the cusp of adulthood and it's a privilege to be a part of that journey. One thing that I love about EPCHS is how much our staff truly cares about our students and community. Even when I was a student here from 1999-2003 I would say that was the case, and I would say our current staff has upheld that tradition. After choreographing our school's musical productions for ten years, I took on the challenge of directing this past school year. It was incredibly difficult but ultimately rewarding! I'm always on the lookout for any student who expresses interest in participating in theatre on or off the stage for future productions, so I encourage students to stop by my classroom (232B) at any point in the school year to chat!” Outside of work, she enjoys anything in the performing arts sphere, but most specifically dance. She also enjoys spending time with her family and two daughters, cooking, and binge watching any and all quality content on various streaming platforms.

Pete McGinnes

Special Education Teacher

pmcginnes@ep309.org

(309) 694-8333

Pete McGinnes is a part of our Special Education department and has been teaching for over 27 years, 21 of those being at East Peoria Community High School. Mr. McGinnes primarily teaches Special Education and Math courses. Originally from Peoria, he graduated from Manual in 1985 before continuing his education at Illinois State University. Pete is passionate about EP because of the dedication and support the staff gives to the students. Outside of work, he officiates football, basketball and baseball. 

Emma Harris

Special Education Teacher

eharris@ep309.org

(309) 698-7544

Emma Harris is a part of our Special Education department and has been teaching for two years, both at EPCHS. Originally from Streator, Illinois, she attended Streator High School before going on to Eureka College to pursue her degree in Special Education and Elementary Education. Emma is motivated by her work and shares that her professional purpose is to open doors for students to find as much independence and success as possible when they leave EPCHS. Ms. Harris is also an assistant Volleyball coach, an advisor of the Prom Committee, and an advisor for Best Buddies. Outside of work, she enjoys coaching volleyball.

Donna Nichols

Special Education Teacher

dnichols@ep309.org

Donna Nichols is a part of the Special Education department and has over ten years of experience in Special Education, one of those now being at EPCHS. She primarily teaches classes for her group of Life Skills students, and is also in the process of introducing an International Club. Originally from Indiana, she earned her degree in Special Education from Illinois State University. She shares, “My why is seeing students begin to understand and appreciate the world around them, their community and environment and become confident, self-advocating young adults.” Outside of work, she enjoys travel, yoga, bicycling, golf, hiking, running, and fundraising for St. Jude.

Erika Ridge

Special Education Teacher

eridge@ep309.org

(309) 698-7508

Erika Ridge is a member of the Special Education department in her 21st year of teaching. She heads the Life Academy 18-22 Transition Program. Originally from Peoria, Illinois, she attended Richwoods High School before earning her Bachelor of Science in Special Education from Eastern Illinois University. She also has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Aurora University. She attended Illinois State University to receive two graduate certificates as a Transition Specialist and Multiple Disabilities Specialist. She loves that the staff at EPCHS are wonderful to work with and very supportive of each other. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking and traveling. Mrs. Ridge resides in Washington with her husband and has two dogs and a 20 year old son attending Illinois State University.

Evan Schaller

Special Education Teacher

eschaller@ep309.org

(309) 698-7549

Evan Schaller is a part of our Special Education department and has been teaching for 9 years. He primarily teaches vocational development courses. Originally from Hoffman Estates, he graduated from Fremd High School before going on to Northeastern Illinois University for his Bachelor’s in Special Education and Aurora University for his M.A. in Educational Leadership and his graduate certificate in Secondary Transition. Mr. Schaller is passionate about helping students grow not only academically but as a whole. Outside of work, he enjoys board games and traveling. 

Erin Theleritis

Special Education Teacher

etheleritis@ep309.org

(309) 698-7576

Erin Theleritis is the lead teacher of the Special Education department at EPCHS; in fact, with 30 years of teaching experience, this is the only place she’s ever worked! She primarily teaches Special Education English 3-4 and Special Education Algebra. Originally from Pekin, Illinois, she attended Pekin High School before earning her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Eastern Illinois University and her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Olivet Nazarene University. Erin shares, “The reason I have spent my whole career at EPCHS is because of the wonderful people I work with. I have had the pleasure of working with and calling many of them my friends over the course of the last 30 years. Everyone here is willing to work together for the good of our students. That is what I love the most!” Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She also loves to read, travel, and shop (she might be a bit of a clothing and shoe lover!) 

Bethanie Whittaker

Special Education Teacher

bwhittaker@ep309.org

(309) 694-8369

Bethanie Whittaker is a member of the Special Education department with over 26 years of educational experience, 7 of those being at EPCHS. She primarily teaches Special Education US History, Civics, and Consumer Education. She is also an Executive Board Member and former President of the Illinois Council for Exceptional Children. Originally from Pekin, she attended Peoria Christian High School, Calvary Bible College where she studied Commercial Aviation, Illinois Central College, and Bradley University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business-Marketing. She also earned a Master of Science in Special Education from Illinois State University and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from Eastern Illinois University. Bethanie shares, I teach to inspire students to learn, try, and think about new ideas. When they can express and then debate those ideas with each other, seeing the bigger picture, class is fascinating. (Submitted by two of my students!)” Outside of work, she enjoys reading and playing the piano.