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Joseph Academy closes DuPage County location despite rent forgiveness

High needs children living in the DuPage County area will have to go elsewhere to get specialized help now that a local nonprofit school has announced its closure.

In a letter to DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin dated Aug. 19, Joseph Academy Founder and CEO Mike Schack addressed the end of the school's DuPage County program.

"After two years, we have not been able to sustain the Joseph Academy program in the former DuPage County Youth Home," he wrote.

The academy, which opened December 2012 in Wheaton, served students with emotional, behavioral and learning challenges who were referred to the program through their school districts.

Schack said his letter was sent "with a heavy heart," citing a lack of federal and state funding for special education and low enrollment as the cause of the closing.

In an interview with Suburban Life in March, Schack said the program hoped to have 18 to 20 students attend the school annually, but only served eight last year.

The academy began falling behind on its bills, owing nearly $12,000 in rent to its landlord, DuPage County, until the board voted to waive the backlog and allow the program to operate rent-free through the end of September.

"The DuPage Board has been most understanding and helpful through excellent maintenance and rental reductions during these years," Schack wrote. "Joseph Academy was blessed with such a solid landlord. We are very grateful for the chance you provided and stand ready to serve in any capacity should a future need arise for an educational program in the facility."

Schack also stated that the school submitted a grant proposal to Gov. Pat Quinn's budget manager for the addition of a boarding school component, but that receiving the grant appeared "a remote possibility."

The academy's final day of occupation was Sept. 1.

Cronin announced the closure publicly at the County Board meeting Aug. 26.

"This school year, Joseph Academy locations across Chicagoland graduated 43 students," he said. "The teachers and staff helped turn around the lives of those young people and their families. We believe in their devotion to serving this unique population of students with special education needs. We wish them well indeed, as they continue to operate Joseph Academy in other locations throughout the region."

The school also has sites in Des Plaines, Hometown and Melrose Park.

County spokesperson Johnna Kelly said the children in the program were offered alternative placements, and that the county is looking at filling the vacancy left by the academy internally.

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