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LaRaviere accuses CPS of covering up illegal denial of special ed services

Troy LaRaviere | Sun-Times file photo by Max Herman

Troy LaRaviere | Sun-Times file photo by Max Herman

Mayoral challenger Troy LaRaviere on Thursday accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked school team of illegally denying special education services to three students at a South Side elementary school, then violating Freedom of Information Act laws to “cover up” those violations.

LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, made the charge after obtaining, what he claims was the original “review and decision report” from Burke Elementary School and comparing it to the version released to him by the Chicago Public Schools in response to an FOIA request.

The original version explains the decision to deny special ed staffing on an appeals committee’s concern that “29 of 52 diverse learners require” support from para-professionals, an “unusually high percentage” of Burke students.

The version released in response to LaRaviere’s FOIA request includes no such reference.

“That justification is illegal. You cannot deny a service that’s in an individualized education program because a student just happens to be in a school with other students who need the same service,” LaRaviere said.

“They were taken out for the purpose of hiding a crime…against special education students in one of the poorest schools in this city….CPS, knowing that it was illegal, did not want it to see the light of day and deleted it.”

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Standing outside the mayor’s office, LaRaviere demanded that the U.S. Attorney’s office, retiring Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the “appropriate inspectors general” investigate both the violation of FOIA laws by CPS and the mayor’s office and the “illegal” denial of special ed services to the three Burke students.

He also demanded creation of a “compensatory fund” and the appointment of federal monitors to oversee, both the special ed program and compliance with Freedom of Information laws.

“The Freedom of Information Act is…one of the bedrocks we have against corrupt government…You’re spending our tax dollars. You got put in by our votes….They’re treating it like it’s meaningless. If there was one word changed on that [report], we cannot let that go,” LaRaviere said.

“Our brazenly corrupt administration and the fact that it so easily and callously violated the Freedom of Information Act should be a major concern for everyone in this city.”

CPS spokesman Michael Passman could not be reached for comment.

On Friday, LaRaviere is scheduled to testify at an Illinois House Education Committee hearing on special education.

He plans to remind state lawmakers, of what he called “CPS crimes against special education students” and charge that “CPS broke the law in order to hide” those violations.

“My statement to them will also be to say that Chicago Public Schools, under the administration of Rahm Emanuel, cannot be trusted. We need a state monitor — not over just CPS special education practices, but also over the FOIA offices,” LaRaviere said.

“CPS needs to develop a compensatory fund for training for parents to advocate for their students and also a fund to deal with the effects of their gross negligence [toward] special education students, who have lost out because of policies and practices designed to delay and deny services they had a legitimate need for.”

LaRaviere acknowledged that he was basing his cover-up charge on one doctored document for the 2016-17 school year out of three original decision reports he obtained.

He also refused to reveal the source who provided him with the original document. Nor would he say whether it came from CPS central office or from Burke Elementary.

Last month, an exhaustive investigation by the Illinois State Board of Education concluded that a 2016 special ed overhaul at CPS had delayed and denied services to needy students.

State investigators held three public meetings in March and also collected some 8,600 pages of documents before releasing their findings at a monthly board meeting.

“There is a lack of regular, coordinated and comprehensive trainings to provide CPS special education staff the knowledge that they need to implement the special education system,” ISBE’s general counsel Stephanie Jones told the board on that day.

The investigation also uncovered significant problems with CPS’ electronic forms used to develop individual programs for kids in need of special education services. Updating those forms often required the approval of a school principal or a district official, who sometimes didn’t show up for meetings where the changes were to be made, delaying services for students.

Specific recommendations—triggered by an investigation by WBEZ Radio—are expected to be made at a state board of education meeting later this month.

Original Document

Document LaRaviere said was sent to him