State probe into special ed at CPS doesn’t go far enough: advocates

SHARE State probe into special ed at CPS doesn’t go far enough: advocates

Protesters hold a press conference in April at the Thompson Center, calling on the Illinois State Board of Education to appoint an “independent monitor” to oversee changes with special education at Chicago Public Schools. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The findings of a just-released state probe into how Chicago Public Schools handles special education funding and procedures is a good start but doesn’t go far enough, says the group that sought the investigation.

“The findings capture the technical violations, but kids were affected, kids didn’t get aides, kids got injured, they didn’t get summer school, they didn’t get transportation,” said Matt Cohen, an attorney for the advocates who brought the original claim against CPS. “What we really need to see now is what does the board do with the recommendations.”

State investigators held three public meetings in March and also collected some 8,600 pages of documents before releasing their findings Wednesday at the Illinois State Board of Education monthly meeting.

“There is a lack of regular, coordinated and comprehensive trainings to provide CPS special education staff the knowledge that they need to implement the special education system,” ISBE’s general counsel Stephanie Jones told the board.

Jones also said the probe found significant problems with CPS’ electronic forms used to develop individual programs for kids in need of special education services. Updating those forms often required the approval of a school principal or a district official, who sometimes didn’t show up for meetings where the changes were to be made, delaying services for students.

“ISBE’s bombshell findings affirm what our rank and file members have been documenting about this disaster for two years,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey in a written statement. “Thanks to the excellent investigative work of local reporters, we know that the motivation behind CPS’ changes to special education policy was based on one overarching goal: to cut costs, no matter how catastrophic the consequences for our students.”

The state probe comes on the heels of a WBEZ investigation, which found that CPS had overhauled special education two years ago — an overhaul that resulted in savings for the district but major service cuts for students.

In an emailed statement, CPS CEO Janice K. Jackson said, “CPS is committed to ensuring that all diverse learners receive a high quality education that meets their unique needs, and we have taken significant steps in recent months to improve special education, including adding additional staff and giving parents more ways to participate in the process. We’ve also listened to principals’ requests and changed our budgeting process to help schools better deliver services.

“We’re grateful that ISBE acknowledged the progress we’ve made so far, along with their commitment to work collaboratively with us on further improvements.

“As we’ve said before, we know that some reforms were done too quickly and needed more involvement from our parents and educators. We also believe that we have more work to do to make sure that we’re giving all our students the services they need, and look forward to refining special education services for all our students.”

Jones said Wednesday that her team would be at ISBE’s monthly meeting in May to make recommendations.

“We want to be able to provide CPS with both information and knowledge and assistance to make sure they can go forward into the [2018-19] school year and make the changes they need to make to make sure that their system runs smoothly,” Jones said.

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