Curtis Harris (right) with Tom Wilson of Access Living in Springfield earlier this year.
According to a recent analysis of The FY 2013 CPS Budget by Access Living, CPS cut approximately 27 positions, or about 4.5% of the Autism Budget. These cuts correspond to an “increasing identification of students in Chicago and nationally as having autism,”* raising doubts about whether students with Autism in the Chicago Public Schools will have access to quality supports. To address these concerns, Curtis Harris of Access Living testified in front of the CPS School Board on Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Curtis was the first student with Autism at Le Moyne Elementary School in the Chicago Public Schools District. He graduated from Steinmetz High School. As a high school student, he was one of the first to participate in the Severe/Profound Autism Inclusion Program, which launched in 1992. The programs Curtis participated in gave him the necessary supports to attend school in integrated classrooms that included students with and without disabilities. Speaking of the experience, Curtis said, “[It] felt great to be able to go to classes with non–disabled peers.” Because of the supports he received, by his junior year at Steinmetz, Curtis had completely integrated into mainstream classes. Today, as an advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, Curtis is fighting to stop proposed cuts to the CPS Autism Program. “Cuts to [the] Autism program will have a severe impact on schools,” Curtis said.
Below is the message Curtis delivered to the CPS School Board on August 22, 2012.
DEVASTING CUTS IMPACTING CPS AUTISTIC STUDENTS
Good Morning my name is Curtis Harris. I was the first student with autism to be enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools system in January 1984 at Le Moyne Elementary School. I spent six years in the autistic program at Le Moyne Elementary School from January 1984 to October 1987, then another three years at Agassiz Elementary School from October 1987 to June 1990. I worked with the behavioral therapist at Le Moyne and Agassiz and learned that anti–social behavior is not acceptable in society. I went into mainstream classes with non–disabled peers in Social Studies, Library and Computer and I ate lunch non–disabled peers. I benefited from the autistic programs. They gave me the foundation to be the person I am today. I have completed more than two years of college at Columbia College Chicago. Today, I'm working part–time intern as a staff associate at Access Living, working in Community Organizing Health Care Advocacy and Policy. In October I will be running in the Chicago Marathon for the first time. I did complete in the Agassiz Special Olympics and haven't completed in any races since them. I also completed in the Chicago Special Olympics at Soldier Field 25 years ago.
The proposed cutting of the autistic program will be devastating to thousands of Chicago Public School Students with autism. Students who have been progressing will regress to abnormal anti–social behaviors or get involved with criminal activity that will land them in jail or prison. What we see in these position cuts are targeted percentage reductions that appear to have been ordered administratively with possibly limited consideration of the needs of students with autism. It's not right for the Board of Education to cut the autistic program when autism is on the rise. The rate of autism is 1 out of 88 according to the New York Times. No cuts to the autistic program.
*Access Living Review of FY2013 CPS Budget