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Chicago Public Schools Inquiry Update

In 2016, our Special Education Rights Clinic’s free Helpline started seeing a pattern of cuts in critical services to special education students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

To address this systemic issue, we joined a coalition of thirteen parent-centered organizations to form the Advocates Group.

The coalition’s actions led to a Public Inquiry by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) that found CPS’s practices were stopping tens of thousands of students from receiving the services they desperately needed.

Olga Pribyl, EFE’s Vice President of the Special Education Clinic, served as one of two attorneys representing the Advocates Group in the hearing that resulted in ISBE finding that CPS violated special education laws and, consequently, had to adopt a corrective action plan.

ISBE hired a monitor to oversee CPS for at least three years to make sure CPS follows the law. CPS also recently rolled out a plan to hold meetings called Student Specific Corrective Action (SSCA) for students impacted by CPS’s delays and denials of special education services during the 2016-2018 school years. The SSCA meeting is one way to determine if the students can get “compensatory education,” which includes such things as extra summer school, tutoring or repayment of transportation costs.

The overall plan lacks ways to ensure students can get appropriate remedies and services. Several fixes offered are not enough to match the harm caused to students. There are also significant barriers that block students’ access to proposed services, even if they qualify for them.

In addition, the plan offers no help for students harmed by budget-related staff shortages and requires IEP Teams to collect and interpret large amounts of data about student progress prior to giving services—this is an issue that the Public Inquiry specifically called out.

Finally, despite the monitor’s presence, IEP Teams and schools continue to break special education laws. For example, we recently requested an IEP meeting for a sixth grade student who is a non-reader to address concerns about his ongoing lack of progress. The district level administrator told us that an IEP meeting may not be helpful or needed because the student has not received any instruction by a special education teacher since the beginning of the school year due to staffing shortages at his school. The student’s legal guardian had not been told of this gap in services.

To help parents navigate this complex process, EFE has a new Equal Justice Works fellow, Will Hrabe, who is sponsored by Aon and Kirkland & Ellis. He has created parent-friendly materials on parents’ options, including the SSCA, ISBE Complaint process, and Due Process Hearings. Will is also putting on trainings to teach parents their rights. If you know of anyone who is interested in having a training or has questions about the process, please contact Will at WilliamH@equipforequality.org.

Although some progress has been made, it is clear that violations are still occurring. It is also clear that parents are not aware of CPS’s violations and their children’s right to remedies for the harms caused. We will continue to play a significant role in this process by working with families, ISBE, and CPS to identify concerns and fight for students to get the services they need.

Last updated: November 04, 2019

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