Chicago Teachers Union Suing CPS, Betsy DeVos Over Special Education Plans

(Brandis Friedman / WTTW News)(Brandis Friedman / WTTW News)

Chicago teachers say they’re being diverted from their teaching duties and forced to fulfill a “physically impossible mandate” of rewriting tens of thousands of individual education plans for special education students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming teachers now face an “impossible burden” to revise these plans for remote learning during the final weeks of the school year.

“Aside from being impossible to accomplish, and from threatening to interfere with the provision of the special education services needed by these children, the redrafting of roughly 70,000 plans is highly likely to increase the anxiety and emotional distress of parents or guardians and that will further complicate the revision of these plans,” the CTU wrote in a nine-page complaint filed Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, in adopting the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, DeVos declined to waive a review requirement that demands Chicago Public Schools and every other public school district revise student IEP’s “as appropriate” to address the anticipated needs of the respective student.

Because of this, the CPS Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services is requiring case managers to meet with the families of every student with special needs or a disability and replace their existing plans with “an appropriate remote learning plan,” according to the CTU.

CPS social worker Carolina Juarez-Hill said that due to the intense demand to get these revisions done, she’s been forced to meet with parents during their lunch breaks at work and other inopportune times. She fears some families may have their rights violated.

“We’re opening ourselves up to not really having the parents fully understand what is happening, what their rights are,” she said. “We’re trying to get this rolled out like an assembly line and we are trying to do this as quickly as possible because of the mandate.”

The suit is seeking an injunction that would stop this review requirement from being enforced.

“The goal with this lawsuit,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told reporters Wednesday, “is to get special education students the supports they need, to get our members … the supports that they need and the freedom from onerous and impossible to meet administrative requirements (and) to get the federal and local policymakers to make our jobs doable.”

But CPS contends that its remote learning plan doesn’t force teachers or clinicians to rewrite IEPs; rather, they must make “basic accommodations and plans” to help their students adjust to this “unprecedented learning format.”

“Our special education students deserve access to a high quality education and the district’s remote learning guidance outlines expectations for educators to ensure students are supported under this unique learning format,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said. “Make no mistake: this lawsuit against the district is not about helping students – it’s about avoiding the necessary steps to ensure our most vulnerable students are supported during this unprecedented crisis.”

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito also issued a statement Wednesday calling the lawsuit nothing more than “political posturing for a headline” and saying it’s “sad to see the union making excuses for why they can’t educate all students instead of figuring out a way to make it happen.”

The response from CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates: “What do you expect her to say?”

She accused DeVos of “abdicating her responsibility” to special education students in the middle of a pandemic by failing to provide any guidance on this topic to states.

“She has quintessentially been a failure in her position as the chief of our nation’s Education Department,” Davis Gates said. “This lawsuit exposes her incompetence, this lawsuit exposes her negligence for our most vulnerable students.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431


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