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CPS offers millions in added support for special ed students illegally denied services

Chicago Sun Times

Thursday, February 13, 2020  |  Article  |  Nader Issa and Nader Dissa

Chicago--Schools (18)

CPS said it’s hard to calculate the exact cost for the effort, but a breakdown of each remedy shows the district could end up paying $10-15 million.

More than 10,500 special education students are set to receive extra support from Chicago Public Schools in an effort to make up for cuts to services that were found to be in violation of federal and state law.

The remedies, which will likely to cost CPS millions, are an unprecedented move to help correct a system so broken that a state monitor was put in place to oversee it.


“This is a great start in identifying how to move forward,” said Stephanie Jones, who runs the CPS special education department. “We’re making many changes in our special education program as a whole. This opportunity is in addition to the changes we’re making to make sure we’re supporting all of our students.”


The Illinois State Board of Education placed a monitor at CPS in May 2018 after it found that the state’s largest school system illegally “delayed and denied” services to students, violating state and federal laws.


Those services included mandated transportation for special education students, summer school, therapy and classroom aides, among others. The cuts came during a time when CPS was becoming more strict about who received the support, all in an effort to cut costs.


The monitor put in place by the state was tasked with putting CPS back in compliance, and recommending ways for CPS to make up missed services for kids.


Until now, CPS had fought advocates about making up those missed services, initially saying families had to request meetings with the district if they thought their child didn’t get the proper support and was hurt by that.


But with the district’s announcement Wednesday, CPS is offering parents of 10,515 students who were identified as having been denied services a menu of options for automatic added support, including tutoring, therapy and access to laptops, without the need for a meeting. Another 2,000 or so families were identified as possible candidates, and automatic meetings will be set up for them without requesting one.


Jones said it’s hard to calculate the exact cost for the effort since parents can pick and choose what they want for their kids. But the cost breakdown per remedy — $800 for each year of summer school missed, $240 for every 10 days of transportation missed, $2,000 for every year without a paraprofessional and $4,000 for every year a student with a learning disability wasn’t given support — means CPS could end up paying $10-15 million.


Jones said she doesn’t believe a similar corrective program has ever been used at a school district, especially one of CPS’ size.


“I have to say, I have not seen this anywhere else,” Jones said. “The corrective action that was provided to us, that was very unique, as well as this opportunity.”


Among those fighting for the remedies alongside special education advocates has been the Chicago Teachers Union, which said in a statement Wednesday that “such a remedy is a major step forward in correcting the wrongs that CPS and the mayor’s appointed Board of Education inflicted on our students with disabilities.”


“From the beginning, we called on CPS to end its drive to save money at the expense of some of the most vulnerable members of our school communities,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We are relieved that CPS has finally acknowledged that it’s time to right these wrongs.”