The Illinois State Board of Education on Wednesday voted to appoint an independent state monitor to oversee Chicago Public Schools’ under-fire special education program.
“The corrective action and recommendations we offered today are the right first step to helping CPS fully serve all children and families,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement. “The common good requires uncommonly good public schools. With the State Board’s action today, the Public Inquiry process concludes, and the road to transformation begins.”
The unanimous vote comes just days after state board officials said CPS has violated federal law protecting special education students.
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 Act.
At the state board meeting Wednesday, some special education advocates said they’re concerned that a single monitor won’t be enough to do the needed work.
Stephanie Jones, ISBE’s special counsel, said the monitor won’t work “in isolation” and will oversee a team dedicated to improving the special education program.
The ISBE vote Wednesday followed a state probe begun last fall after a group of special education advocates, bolstered by reporting from 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.”
Among other things, state investigators held three public meetings in March and also collected some 8,600 pages of documents before releasing their report April 18.
In a press conference held after the state made its decision, Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the city’s board of education were “deaf, dumb and blind judges made of stone” to complaints that union members and parents brought before them.
“If they’re going to say ‘We’ve turned over a new leaf’ and ‘We hear you, and we’re going to now fix the problem,’ I want to know why they didn’t do anything to fix this problem for over a year when we brought them specific instances of this system being broken,” Sharkey said.
Though the decision could mean reshaping education to better fit the needs of students with special needs, for Christine Palmieri’s 9-year-old autistic son and thousands of other CPS students like him, she said the decision could be too little, too late.
“While I’m pleased by the results of the ISBE inquiry today, I’m concerned that we cannot undo the regression and the effects of what’s been done,” Palmieri said at the CTU press conference. “The trajectory of his future has been changed forever and there’s no compensatory service that can replace the time he needed the supports and services that he wasn’t receiving.”
Contributing: Rachel Hinton