Driver’s Education Classes Cut

By Colene Gibson

Only 120 students will be able to take Driver's Ed next year. Photo by Carolina Bedoya

Some students who were originally enrolled to take Driver’s Education at Niles West for the next school year will no longer be allowed to take the course as they planned, according to counselors.

Out of the 235 students who enrolled to take the course, only 120 will be scheduled for next year’s two classes.  The students chosen will be based off age with the oldest students selected first, according to counselor Mitch Stern.

“The Board of Education has a five-year strategic plan that seeks to focus limited District funds in the areas where students need the most assistance.  In order to accomplish this, the District had to reduce in areas outside the Board’s goals.  Driver Education is an expensive program for the District, and the program is not core to the academic mission of the District.  All students will have the opportunity to take Driver Education, although there will likely be a waiting list while the District focuses its effort on ensuring the academic success of every child,” according to John Heintz, assistant superintendent for human resources and chief legal officer.

Students will be offered other classes to replace their driver’s education course, Stern said.

“Some students chose Driver’s Ed. over a lunch.  There are others who are going to balk at the idea, but there is a list of classes that we can offer them instead.  Students that chose not to take another course will be given an extra study hall,” Stern said.  “Students can still take Driver’s Education privately or try to get into summer school.  They still have options, they just aren’t as convenient.”

Students who will be cut from the Driver’s Ed. courses will be offered alternative classes that did not have full enrollment after meeting with counselors.  Some of the courses offered will be those such as Drawing and Painting, Ceramics, Advanced Studio, Theatre, Electronic Music, Guitar, Creative Writing, Journalism, Newspaper Production, Acting, Psychology, Sociology, Law, or Global Problems.  Some courses require a prerequisite class before enrollment.

According to physical welfare director Paul Swanson, students who are not able to take driver’s ed at West can take the course privately for a fee.

Swanson said, “The private firm rates and D219 are competitive and in many instances the fees of 219 exceed those of a private company.  In making a few calls…I found companies with slightly higher fees and companies with slightly lower fees than D219 depending on when you take the course.”

Swanson also said students can take the course during the summer.

“Our summer school program will not be reduced and therefore will also be an option for those wanting the excellent program offered by 219.  The fees in the summer are the same as during the school year.  State law does not require anyone over the age of 18 to take Driver’s Education; however, the Physical Welfare Department does not endorse this as a preferred method.  Driver Education is a proven method of becoming a safe driver,” he said.

Driver’s Education teachers such as Bryan Wittersheim and Mario Faso will be required to teach Physical Education classes to make up for the fewer Driver’s Education courses.

Niles West Driver’s Education classes are being reduced in order to reallocate money to core classes,  Swanson said.

“Students have options for Driver Education that they do not have in core academic areas. Reductions in non-core areas balance re-investments in new areas,” said Swanson. “State requirements for Driver Education hours require us to have two teachers assigned to every 30 students to meet the six hours of driving time.  The amount of salary, benefits, and fuel alone would not be covered by the amount taken in by fees and dwindling state support.”

However, Wittersheim doesn’t agree that the school will benefit by teaching less classes.

The school will still be required to pay the same fees for car rentals and insurance no matter how many classes are taught.  There are two teachers required to teach each Driver’s Education class instead of the standard one teacher needed for most other classes, said Wittersheim.

“West still provides the cars and insurance.  The only difference is using less gas.  The insurance is still paid, but they miss out on fees [paid as tuition by students] and state reimbursement,” said Wittersheim.

In a larger sense, the course cuts will greatly affect some of the low-income students.

“There are some students that the school pays for Driver’s Education.  If they don’t get it here, it will be very hard [for them to take a Driver’s Education class].  At least if your family has some money then there’s options.  Those kids will probably be crushed.  They have no other options,” said Stern.

Wittersheim agreed.

“Driver’s Ed. is looked at based on money not what it should be.  What it should be seen as is that we are providing a service for the students in the community,” said Wittersheim.

In response, Swanson, said, “I hope that the community would see the amount of service that we are providing and the many options for Driver’s Education still available in the summer.  District 219 offers an outstanding Driver Education sequence that will still be available to over 400 students each year through summer and school year sections.  When restructuring occurs difficult choices are made and I hope that other options for electives will be available for West students.”

In terms of the number of courses offered in future years, Swanson said, “Every year all programs in all departments will be evaluated.  The enrollment in Driver Education will be no exception.”