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CPS special education needs ‘major changes, major improvements,’ board president says

The district’s efforts to monitor and address concerns with special education are “not enough,” Miguel del Valle told CPS leaders at the monthly Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle talks to members during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop, in August.
Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle talks to members during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop, Wednesday morning, Aug. 25, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

School board president Miguel del Valle on Wednesday called on Chicago Public Schools officials to urgently work to fix special education services that families and advocates for years have said aren’t adequately serving students.

The district’s efforts to monitor and address concerns with special education are “not enough,” del Valle told CPS leaders at the monthly Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

“There is still a lot of frustration with our programs for diverse learners. That has to be fixed,” he said. “The time has come for us to make sure that the changes that are necessary are made in a way that will get us to where we need to be.

“We will never be perfect ... But we must be better. And we must be better this school year. We need to see major changes, major improvements. ... We need to see those improvements and see them really fast.”

The Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reported earlier this month that three years after state officials ordered CPS to provide remedies to families that were illegally denied special education services, only a tiny fraction had received anything. Days later, CPS announced it would revamp the program.

Aside from the remedies, parents and advocates have also complained about the special education department’s leadership and responsiveness to concerns that have long gone unaddressed.

Interim chief education officer Maurice Swinney said “CPS has taken a hard look at the challenges we have faced at executing” the compensatory service program and was excited to make changes that would help families more easily access the remedies they were due.

“We look forward to working with our families and our special education advocates to bring [the program] to an equitable and successful conclusion as this is an important step in us moving forward together as a district,” he said.

Board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland asked if district officials could develop a public tracker to show progress of families accessing their remedies so the district could be accountable.

Swinney said the district is working with advocates to improve transparency, and a public tracker might be created.