Individuals with deaf-blindness have always had very unique needs that require specific educational strategies and services. However, it was a combination both national and local events which led to the creation of what is now the Philip J. Rock Center and School (previously known as the Illinois Deaf-Blind Service Center and School).
From 1964 – 1965, a national rubella (also known as German measles) epidemic moved through the United States. In addition, another rubella outbreak came to Chicago after the national epidemic. These events led to the birth of infants who contracted congenital rubella from their mothers in utero. Congenital rubella caused children to have educational and medical challenges, including deaf-blindness. Suddenly, there were children with deaf-blindness in numbers not seen before in Illinois. This created a need for expanded school services.
The Illinois Deaf-Blind Service Center and School (IDB) was established by Public Law 79—966 in June, 1975 as an additional option for school districts to implement their responsibility in providing services to children who are deaf-blind. This very specialized service model was established because children and youth with combined vision-hearing loss have challenges in communication, mobility, understanding their environment, and learning academics. The Illinois Legislature revised the School Code of Illinois to mandate increased, improved, and appropriate instructional services and residential facilities for individuals who are deaf-blind. Currently, Section 14-11.02 of the School Code of Illinois mandates a permanent statewide Service Center, an educational residential facility and an advisory board for services to individuals who are deaf-blind.
Philip J. Rock was President of the Illinois Senate and he was instrumental in passing the ground-breaking legislation. The program was an outgrowth of many voices working in a collaborative effort to create a new educational delivery system to meet the challenging needs of this low incidence population. The "voices" included family members, members of the General Assembly, Directors of Special Education, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Department of Children & Family Services, and experts in the field of deaf-blindness. IDB was designed to be primarily funded through a line item in the State of Illinois budget.
The school opened its doors to 5 students in October of 1978. From August 1978 -1980, Cook County Superintendent of Schools, Richard Martwick, served the program as Administrative Agent. In a 1978 IDB newsletter message from Supt. Martwick he stated, "I am extremely proud to be the Administrative Agent for the Illinois Deaf-Blind Service Center and School. I am convinced this unique program will be a model for the nation and an asset to special education in Illinois. In designing this program, we've taken into account the many special needs of these people. The residential school offers one of the most complete educational programs available anywhere. The service center provides a wide range of services and referrals for service to the entire deaf-blind population in the state. This combined service center and school concept enables us to provide a continuum of services to deaf-blind children and their families, as well as to the adult population. IDB also acts as a coordinating agency for all other service agencies working with the deaf-blind." The motto of the program was "Together for Independence." Initially, the school was housed at 1125 North Cleaver Street in Chicago. This location, in a convent behind a church, offered a vibrant, busy neighborhood and access to public transportation. It also had limited space and had a concrete playground.
Because of the increased demand, more residential and educational space became necessary. In late 1979 the state of Illinois made an agreement with Lombard, District 44 to become the administrative agent for IDB. Lombard immediately began looking for a location in DuPage County that was in close proximity and would offer more space and land for possible expansion of the school and center. In 1980 the state of Illinois purchased the Manor Convalescent Center at 818 DuPage Blvd. in nearby Glen Ellyn, Illinois. In April of 1980, the center, the school and its 19 students moved into their rustic and scenic new home, which sits on top of Baker Hill, the highest point in DuPage County. The number of students grew to 27 in the 1980's and 1990's. All school services were provided onsite. The service center established an Interagency Agreement Committee to coordinate statewide technical assistance services.
The statewide service center was to act in a coordinating role with deaf-blind programs throughout the state and with code agencies serving the deaf-blind population. The service center offered technical assistance to families, school districts, and community agencies. Early Intervention services were provided to infants and toddlers in their homes and at community sites. Today, the responsibilities of the service center are supported by ISBE's federal deaf-blindness grant, Project Reach: Illinois Deaf-Blind Services.
In 1987, the school took advantage of a state grant to promote inclusion (Project Choices) and began utilizing community school site classrooms settings. IDB staffed these classrooms and provided the educational materials. There was a shift to increase educational opportunities in a variety of community settings. In 1988, Governor Thompson, members of the Illinois General Assembly, and representatives from the Illinois State Board of Education decided to honor Philip Rock's contributions by hosting a dedication ceremony, in Glen Ellyn, and renaming IDB to the Philip J. Rock Center and School (PRC).
We are saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Philip J. Rock, the namesake of our school. Senator Rock had an extraordinary career as a legislator, community leader, and attorney. Our school is a testimony to his legacy of compassion, care, and advocacy on behalf of deaf blind children.
PRC is the only public school in the country providing services exclusively to deaf-blind children and youth. The school continues to be committed to providing education, therapy and support services to our students so they develop their maximum level of independence. The Philip J. Rock Center and School is well respected nationally. It is accredited through AdvancEd. It is "in step" with the state Learning Standards and utilizes evidence-based practices, and continues to change with the times. Even though the incidence of Rubella has decreased, students learning with deaf-blindness due to a variety of conditions continue to need specialized services. PRC will continue to change with the times and provide innovative, evidence-based best practices.