CPS CEO Janice Jackson: Goal is to right ‘sins of the past’ in special ed

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CPS CEO Janice Jackson fielded questions from 14 speakers Monday night at Amundsen High School on the North Side. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Less than a week after the Illinois Board of Education appointed a monitor for CPS’ special education program, district CEO Janice Jackson maintained that improving the quality of the program was still “a top priority.”

Last week, the board unanimously voted to appoint a monitor after they said CPS has violated federal law protecting special education students.

“My goal is to right some of the sins of the past,” Jackson said Monday evening at Amundsen High School on the North Side. “It’s unacceptable some of the things that have happened in the past.”

Last month, Illinois State Board of Education 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 Act.

Jackson was at Amundsen on Monday as part of a series of town hall-style meetings at schools across the city. Several hundred parents of CPS students, representing predominantly North Side schools, packed the auditorium, with many forced to stand against the walls.

She did not mention Claypool by name or make note of the recently appointed monitor.

Jackson touted district improvements, making a point to note that the district opted to put $29 million back into special education in its most recent budget, before fielding questions from 14 people over the course of an hour.

A point of pride for Jackson thus far was the hiring of 300 teachers who have been assigned to what the district has labeled “opportunity schools,” which were previously under the “hard to staff” designation. Those schools, she said, have historically seen a higher rate of teacher turnover that often negatively impacts students’ performance. Those new hires, Jackson said, are “committed to CPS.”

Questions ranged from background checks not being performed on people elected to local school councils to teacher staffing and facility infrastructure.

A common theme, though, was the budget.

Jackson repeatedly noted that the district and parents of students were “stronger in numbers” when it came to securing more funding and she repeatedly called on attendees to contact their legislators.

She said a legislative solution “is something that we can depend on,” but she acknowledged “it’s not a cure for everything.”

Last fall, the district got a $450 million infusion after a change was made to the way Illinois funds public education.

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