Chicago Public Schools: A Disability Rights Crisis

A note from Access Living’s Director of Advocacy about budget threats to students with disabilities and special education.

Dear Access Living friends and allies,

As we head into back-to-school season, thousands of Chicago students with disabilities are facing once again the reality that their right to a public school education is not as important as that of other students. Access Living has witnessed a prevailing organizational culture of devaluation at CPS that year after year belittles and traumatizes students and their families, despite the fact that many teachers and principals fight as hard as they can for their students with disabilities. This year as CPS faces yet another financial crisis, the door swings open once again to throw disability civil rights out the window.

Essentially, the Chicago Public Schools have proposed to cut up to 42 million dollars from special education services that could result in 540 special education teachers and aides being laid off. A Tribune story from last week at this link covers the situation. Principals are being asked to meet special education obligations with far fewer dollars than they had previously. WBEZ carried an excellent story this week at this link . Both news stories feature commentary from Rod Estvan, the Education Policy Analyst at Access Living.

Access Living is closely monitoring this situation as well as the district’s loss of funds over the years for ADA physical compliance at Chicago Public Schools. At a time when the school-to-prison pipeline is all too real for students with disabilities (see this link) and students with disabilities face greater rates of suspension ( see this link ), we are extremely concerned that this school year will deal a significant blow to our youngest brothers and sisters in the disability community.

And yet is this all smoke and mirrors? As the school year begins and principals and teachers hash out the needs of their students with disabilities, as well as their legal obligations, pushback from parents and advocates will begin which will force two things. It will force principals to find the money somehow to support students, or it will force legal complaints from parents when student’s individualized education plans are not met, or are revised to meet the services that are available under the cuts. While the Chicago Public Schools wants to save money, they will in the end lose money and time that could be spent on making our schools better.

We urge Chicago Public Schools parents and advocates to ask questions and monitor the situation at local schools. Rod Estvan of Access Living is available for questions at (312) 640-2149 and Additionally, parents may contact Equip for Equality (see the website if they feel their child’s disability rights are being violated.

In this 25th anniversary year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Chicago Public Schools must renew its commitment to students with disabilities, not back away.

Amber Smock
Director of Advocacy, Access Living