State recommends monitor to oversee special education at CPS for 3 years

SHARE State recommends monitor to oversee special education at CPS for 3 years

Sun-Times file photo

Saying that the Chicago Public Schools have violated federal law protecting special education students, Illinois State Board of Education officials took the rare step Friday of recommending an independent monitor for at least three years.

That monitor will have the authority to independently review CPS’ special ed staffing formula and budget plan, and to approve any changes CPS might seek to make regarding special education. ISBE also will recommend a way, yet to be determined, to provide make-up services for children wrongly denied them by the state’s largest school district.

Each student’s team of parents, teachers, service providers and principal or district representative who collectively determine what the child needs will regain the power to make decisions about aides, bus transportation to school and extra schooling in the summer — decisions CPS had put in the hands of bureaucrats. And an updated special education manual must be posted on CPS’ website by August.

ISBE general counsel Stephanie Jones wrote in the memo that her agency will assess whether the monitor, originally opposed by CPS, will still be needed after three years.

“This recommendation does not exhaust the technical assistance ISBE may provide to CPS in order to implement the corrective action necessary to change the culture in Special Education at CPS,” Jones wrote.

Details of the recommendations appeared on the agenda posted Friday for board members’ May meeting on Wednesday. The members will then vote on adopting the 11-page memo’s legal findings and interventions, agency spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said.

ISBE’s unusual action resulted from a probe begun last fall after a group of special education advocates, bolstered by reporting by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, asked for the state’s help in examining sudden and unpopular changes to special education at CPS, changes they believed were illegal and “driven by budgetary concerns.” Those same advocates had asked for at least five years’ monitoring and a $10 million fund to pay for compensatory services to children who were previously denied them.

Terri Smith, one of those advocates and an appointee to CPS’ new parent advisory council, applauded the recommendation making parents equal partners with school staffers to determine each special ed student’s “individualized education plan.” She also said the monitor was “much better than nothing, but it’s not set up to be super successful.

“One person cannot possibly do all the things (Jones) thinks they should do,” she said.

Last month, ISBE officials found that some of CPS’ special education reforms made during ousted CEO Forrest Claypool’s tenure with help from consultants he’d known for years “delayed and denied services to individual students” under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In a prepared statement, CPS CEO Janice Jackson pointed to several improvements made since she took over CPS, including a return to funding special ed positions centrally instead of giving principals a lump sum and asking them to figure it out.

“I believe some of the reforms made in prior years were done too quickly and with insufficient parent and educator involvement,” she said, “and Chicago Public Schools will not make that mistake again.”

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