Progressive Caucus brands canceled special ed hearing a ‘cover-up’

The City Council’s 11-member Progressive Caucus on Monday demanded to know why this week’s Education Committee meeting on special education funding at the Chicago Public Schools was abruptly canceled without explanation.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), a former school counselor who ran for alderman with heavy support from the Chicago Teachers Union, thinks she knows why.

“A lot of parents and teachers were scheduled to testify about what’s happening. Kids not receiving services. One hundred-eighty-one special ed openings not filled. So many kids out of compliance with the individual education plans that outline mandated services they were supposed to receive,” Garza said.

“To have an open hearing for everyone to testify about what’s happening behind closed doors —parents, teachers, everyone — would basically put CPS on blast. I don’t think the mayor wants that. It’s just another way to cover up the dysfunction in the Chicago Public Schools.”

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, could not be reached to explain why he canceled the hearing, originally scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The City Clerk’s office posted the public notice about the cancellation on Sunday. No explanation was given.

The Progressive Caucus has been demanding the hearings in response to an investigative report by WBEZ-FM Radio 91.5.

The public radio station uncovered delays in special education services and disparities among spending on white and on minority students, among other findings.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), chairman of the Progressive Caucus, could not be reached for comment on the canceled hearing.

In a press release, Waguespack was quoted as saying that he and his colleagues demanded the hearing after WBEZ found CPS leadership had “implemented secret plans to reduce programs and support for special needs students.”

“Parents and taxpayers deserve answers,” Waguespack was quoted as saying.

“CPS leadership must answer for the findings of this report, which demonstrate that, likely in violation of state and federal law, CPS redirected funds intended for students with special needs, and significantly reduced the programs and specialized supportive services for special education.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), a Progressive Caucus member who also chairs the City Council’s Black Caucus, noted that “parents, teachers and principals” have been protesting, what he called “this pattern of willful neglect.”

“The Education Committee must meet to look into this apparent stealth scheme to slash the number of students classified as eligible for specialized services,” Sawyer was quoted as saying.

CPS spokesman Michael Passman was aware the hearing had been called off, but said he did not know whether CPS had requested the cancellation.

Under federal law, supervision of special education students is required to be spelled out in an “individualized education program.” Those IEPs are confidential.

Last year, CPS made some changes in how the school district funded services for special education students. At the time, the changes were explained as an attempt to bolster oversight, raise standards and increase test scores among special needs students.

That prompted parents and advocates to charge that CPS had added layers of bureaucracy that delayed services for students. Some of the changes have been eliminated this school year.

Still, the Illinois State Board of Education has launched an investigation into the special ed practices at CPS aimed at determining whether there is, as State School Superintendent Tony Smith put it, a “policy environment in CPS” that is “preventing students from being served.”

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