Special education advocates — teachers and parents alike — were among the strongest supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, even as it lasted into a third week.
But some of those same people are now among the deal’s loudest critics, saying their needs did not make it into the final agreement reached between CPS and CTU.
“This is not strong enough to provide real relief,” tweeted Christine Palmieri, a parent and special education advocate.
The advocates felt like they had the most to gain, and agreed with the CTU that striking was the only way to force CPS, whose troubled special education department remains under state control, to do right by its students with special needs.
In the tentative agreement reached Wednesday, the union boasted that it earned “hard gains” in social workers, nursing staff and case managers. That includes 209 additional social worker positions, 250 additional nursing positions and 180 additional case manager positions by July 30, 2023, with 280 case managers by the end of the term of the contract.
A pot of $2.5 million per year, up from $500,000, will help reduce workloads for counselors, case managers and clinicians.
School counselors, special educators and clinicians will no longer have to perform case manager tasks. The individualized education plans known as IEPs will be solely made by the IEP team of educators, support staff and families. There’s now a pool of subs for special education teachers, who can’t be assigned to cover any duties that aren’t special ed related. Clinicians are guaranteed a private, confidential space for working with students.
Private agency nurses will be phased out and replaced with permanent hires.
And CPS will ramp up its overall number of support staffers for special education by the end of the contract.
But special ed advocates are disappointed in the results, saying the language isn’t strong or specific enough in the contract, and help doesn’t come soon enough. Social workers and nurses, for example, won’t be guaranteed in every school until the fifth year.
“The agreements are so weak, it’s like why did they go on strike as far as the [special ed] stuff is concerned?” parent advocate Mary Hughes said Thursday.
Palmieri tweeted the counselors won’t be enough.
She noted that one of the gains was basically putting existing law governing special ed into the contract.
“I don’t want to laud special education law being in a teachers contract as a win,” Palmieri also wrote. “It’s federal law, if that isn’t enough to force CPS to follow it — nothing is.”
Natasha Carlsen, who heads the CTU’s special education committee and was a member of its bargaining team, announced via Twitter that she had voted “no” on the deal — as did a lot of her staff. When someone said she was “sickened by the deal,” she responded: “I am also.”
“It ain’t over yet,” she said. “And I’m not giving up.”
CTU officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.