Advocates Respond to Special Education Investigation at CPS

It’s been a big week for Chicago Public Schools.

The budget process for individual schools is starting much earlier than in previous years, elections for local school councils just wrapped up Thursday and the Illinois State Board of Education has finally presented findings on a monthslong investigation into CPS’ special education programming.

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In that investigation, the general counsel of the board of education said it found systemic problems that delayed and denied special education services to students. ISBE also said CPS’ policies and procedures hindered educators’ and families’ efforts to advocate for those services.

“It reflected a huge vindication of issues raised in the WBEZ investigation and our complaint” said attorney Matthew Cohen, who represents a coalition of 14 advocacy and parent groups. “But it came across as those were technical violations, when really they’re major problems in terms of how kids get service.”

One of the concerns is with the district’s electronic computer system for creating Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, for each student in special education. A student’s IEP team of teachers, counselors and parents would often need a principal or district representative, who may or may not have a special education background, to override the pre-filled or auto-populated fields in the form.

Cohen says advocates are concerned about the district’s plans to fix the problem.

“ISBE found the computer program was a serious problem, but what’s the fix? We’ve heard no discussion about fixing it. CPS says problems aren’t happening anymore, but we get reports from parents saying they are,” he said.

Advocates are calling for $10 million in compensatory damages for the students who were denied or delayed services over the last two years as a result of CPS’ policy changes.

“The inquiry report didn’t recognize the students’ pain and suffering,” said Chris Yun, education policy analyst at Access Living, a disability rights advocacy nonprofit. “[The report] also avoided the issue that CPS intentionally made the system to delay and deny services in order to save costs.”

Yun also says they’d like the state to appoint an independent monitor’s office and they plan to spend the next month advocating to ISBE in advance of the May board meeting, when it plans to present recommendations for CPS.

Joining us to discuss this and more is CPS CEO Janice Jackson.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman

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ISBE Announces Hearings on CPS Special Education Practices

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