PARK FOREST – After hearing from residents who felt helpless when Rich East High School closed their doors in 2020, State Senator Patrick Joyce (D-Essex) sponsored a new law to prevent neighborhood schools from closing without public input.

“The closure of Rich East High School left many households angry because the decision left residents’ voices unheard, even though it affected their kids and the communities they live in,” Joyce said. “With this new law, residents will have the chance to offer feedback on decisions that would impact the lives of students, families and educators.”

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

“These decisions require community engagement,” Joyce said. “This new law will give our communities the opportunity to provide input on how to best handle these unfortunate situations.”

The legislation was signed into law Friday and takes effect immediately.