CPS routinely delays, denies services to students with disabilities; Advocates demand a Special Master, $10 million in compensation

Findings of ISBE investigation expected tomorrow

Contact:
Matt Cohen, Matt Cohen and Associates
866-787-9270 or mdcspedlaw@gmail.com
Olga Pribyl at Equip for Equality
312-995-3849 or
olga@equipforequality.org
Mary Fahey Hughes at Raise Your Hand
773-419-0240 or
faheyhughes@gmail.com

CPS routinely delays, denies services to students with disabilities, Advocates demand a Special Master, $10 million in compensation

Findings of ISBE investigation expected tomorrow

CHICAGO – Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 18, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is expected to announce the findings of a General Counsel’s inquiry into whether Chicago Public Schools (CPS) routinely delayed or denied special education services to students with disabilities.

Advocates are demanding an independent monitor, $10 million in compensation for corrective action and compensation services for affected students. The inquiry was requested by a coalition of thirteen advocacy groups representing families, teachers, attorneys and people with disabilities.

In March, a special ISBE panel held three days of public hearings on CPS’s special education process. Advocates have recommended that ISBE take action in six key areas:

1. An ISBE-appointed independent external monitoring team/special master to be in place for five years
2. Creation of a fund to provide public or private services up to a total of $10 million to pay for compensatory services for students who were wrongly denied services in the last two years because of CPS’ policy changes
3. Ongoing collection of CPS data on students with disabilities and their special education service needs
4. Updating the CPS Procedural Manual to improve service delivery for students with disabilities and ensure that staff and parents can get copies and are trained on it
5. Changes to the electronic system used to process, document and store Individual Educational Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities to remove arbitrary blocks that prevent providing appropriate services
6. Clarification of the roles of IEP teams, principals and regional supervisors to insure that the IEP teams, including the parents, are able to make decisions for the student rather than an administrator precluding or overruling the team’s decisions.

“We hope that ISBE will announce concrete steps to fix the problems raised during the inquiry,” said Amber Smock, director of advocacy for Access Living, one of the organizations who supported the inquiry and made recommendations. “The inquiry reflects a major potential turning point in protecting the civil right of Chicago students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education, in the least restrictive environment.”

Parents were active in the investigation process and applaud the process. "We are asking for transparency and state oversight of CPS following clear violations of special education law,” said Christine Palmieri, a parent of a child who experienced delays and denials of education services by CPS. “Our children deserve what is legally mandated to them and the opportunity to thrive. It is important to note that we are still uncovering the long-term effects of harmful CPS policies and procedures in all schools across the city.”

During the course of the inquiry, CPS also announced that it was changing its special education budgeting process, moving from a controversial school-based budgeting process that allowed special education funds to be moved to other purposes, to one that clarifies that special education dollars are to be used for special education. This is a partial victory for advocates, they say. Advocates have long-said the school-based decision process was causing harm to students with disabilities.

The inquiry and recommendations are the culmination of decades of frustration with the CPS special education system, brought to a head by two developments.

One was a series of investigative stories last year by Sarah Karp of WBEZ-FM, the public radio station in Chicago. The stories covered the development of a CPS special education manual, which appeared to be designed for the purpose of denying services and supports for students with disabilities in order to save money. The other development was the illegal denial of transportation services to CPS preschool students with disabilities in the fall of 2017, which angered families and advocates in the early intervention field.

“In 1975, it became the law of the land that every child with a disability had a real right to public education,” said Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living, a Chicago-based disability rights organization. “Over the last few years, it’s become very obvious that CPS was on a path to deny that right through the use of a secret procedural manual developed by budget analysts with zero input from teachers and families. That was the final straw for advocates.”

During the ISBE inquiry hearings, families and educators testified to many cases of denial of services, in some cases resulting in physical harm to children with disabilities. One father of an elementary school aged daughter with severe disabilities testified that although his daughter’s education team agreed that she needed a dedicated aide, CPS delayed services by requiring data collection. The student was denied her IEP that required a dedicated aide because of CPS’s budgetary restraint on proper staffing and the student suffered injuries at school requiring medical attention. 

The ISBE inquiry is also of national interest because it is rare that a state board of education will exercise its power of inquiry.  ISBE’s findings and possible recommendations are of great interest to families, teachers and advocates nationwide.  

“As evidence in this investigation, dozens of parents submitted affidavits detailing egregious examples of how special education services for their children were systemically delayed and denied by CPS,” said Mary Fahey Hughes of Raise Your Hand, a parents coalition supporting public education. “The families of CPS students who have special education needs deserve justice and we expect ISBE to come up corrective action that remedies the gross abuses committed by CPS.”

The special education advocacy coalition includes: Access Living; the Shriver Center on Poverty Law; Chicago Principals and Administrators Association; the Chicago Teachers Union; Parents 4 Teachers; Ounce of Prevention Fund; Legal Council for Health Justice; Raise Your Hand for IL Public Education; Legal Assistance Foundation; Equip For Equality; Potter and Bolanos, LLC; Matt Cohen and Associates; 19th Ward Parents for Special Education, and Sharon Weitzman Soltman.

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