Chicago treating special education students like parking meters in privatization drive... Montefiore community charges Huberman, special education bureaucrats are sabotaging the school and depriving students who need the school's unique services of the services they deserve

Supporters of one of the most unique public schools in Chicago, Montefiore, held a press conference on February 18, 2010, at the school, to outline their growing concern that Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and his administrative staff are continuing a sabotage of the school leading to what a growing number suspect will be a CPS attempt to give the building away to one of Chicago's charter schools.

Rev. Robin Hood (above in blue suit at podium), a community representative on the Montefiore Local School Council, began the press conference held at the school on February 18, 2010. Hood noted that the Huberman administration has been sending mixed signals to Montefiore for more than a year, but that community and school members now believe that the administration is sabotaging Montefiore so that the school's building can be privatized. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Montefiore special school, at 1310 S. Ashland Ave., has been in operation for 80 years, serving some of the most challenging students in Chicago. For its entire history, Montefiore's specialty has been students who are facing extreme emotional and behavioral challenges. The school, which has been recognized for the better part of a century, has found itself struggling for its very existence under a regime at both City Hall and the Chicago Board of Education that has been trying to privatize as many public services as possible, even though privatization is more costly and much less effective than well organized professional public services.

Speaker after speaker at the press conference listed the reasons why the community now believes that top officials at the Chicago Board of Education are deliberately undermining the school so that its building can be vacated. In the eyes of some at the school, former Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan had already promised the unique facility to a west side charter school, and that the current policies of CEO Ron Huberman, who succeeded Duncan after Duncan became U.S. Secretary of Education in January 2009, are simply a continuation of those policies.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart told the group that the union is vigorously opposed to the privatization of special education services in Chicago, as is being done. She referred to the refusal of the CPS Office of Specialized Services to refer special students to Montefiore as an example of the problems being caused by what she called "The Office of Stopping Services." Despite the fact that principals across the city have been trying to refer disturbed students to Montefiore, Stewart and others noted that under both Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman the referrals have simply been blocked, leading to a steady decline in the number of staff assigned to the school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart said that the union has been following the attacks on special education services inside CPS and the attempts by CPS to privatize as many of those services as possible. The attacks began under former CEO Arne Duncan and have continued under Duncan's successor, Ron Huberman.

Esther Burnett of the Montefiore Local School Council noted that people from Montefiore had spoken at the Chicago Board of Education meeting on April 22, 2009 about these same concerns. At the time, CEO Ron Huberman told them that CPS was not sabotaging Montefiore and that he would personally get back to them "before May."

"May of which year?" Burnett demanded in English and Spanish at the press conference. She said that Huberman had still not contacted the LSC or anyone at the school, while Huberman's subordinates in the Office of Specialized Services, which is in charge of special education, has continued to sabotage Montefiore.

Ms. Burnett repeated that after Montefiore's August graduation, the school will only have 21 students, in a building well equipped to serve more than 120. She also noted that for many of the students served by Montefiore there is no other real option for high school. Because of the drive to raise test scores and reduce the so-called "dropout rate" in the general high schools under Ron Huberman's controversial "Performance Management" system's "matrices", any principal who takes in a Montefiore/Las Casas student is asking for trouble. Most of the students served by both schools have been adjudicated as delinquents by the Juvenile Court and have been incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, where they attended the "Nancy B. Jefferson" alternative school (which serves incarcerated juveniles). Recent reports have indicated that the pressure on principals to make their numbers under "Performance Management" leads to a reluctance to take in students who are likely to threaten the numbers.

The result of the combination of the sabotage of Las Casas and Montefiore, on the one hand, and the problems getting the children placed in regular schools, on the other, seems to further the privatization objectives of the Chicago administration and Ron Huberman.

Other speakers noted different aspects of the same problem. Speaking for Clarice Berry of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA), retired Mather High School principal John Butterfield noted that CPS was supposed to be following a new approach to facilities planning, passed into law last year. Butterfield noted that the present situation at Montefiore was clearly a case of something that should be studied by the new committee.

Valencia Rias of Designs for Change echoed the support for Montefiore, adding that everyone present should respond by opposing the most recent attack on Chicago's public schools by Illinois Senator Rev. James Meeks. Rias outlined the latest legislation introduced in Springfield by Meeks. Under the proposed legislation, local school councils would be stripped of their powers and relegated to an "advisory" role.