Jan. 26, 2009... Board continues cutbacks in special education with plan to move Davis Developmental School

The Chicago Board of Education opened its annual round of hearings on school closings, reconstitutions, turnarounds, phase outs, and other changes against the city's remaining public schools at 3:00 on Monday, January 26, 2009, at CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago.

The hearing was scheduled to be held at 3:00 p.m. at the Board's Loop headquarters despite the fact that the majority of teachers, parents, and students were not able to get from the South Chicago school to the city's downtown (or afford to park) in the middle of a work day.

The first hearing, at 3:00 p.m. on January 26, was on a proposal to close the Davis Developmental Center (9101 S. Jeffrey Blvd.), a special education school serving severely handicapped pre-school and kindergarten children. Under the proposal, children from Davis Developmental are to be moved to space inside a new Langston Hughes Elementary School being built several miles away (near the site of the old Langston Hughes school, which was located at 226 W. 104th St.) Observers noted that if the Davis Developmental Center is closed it would mark the continuation of the attack on dedicated special education facilities for severely handicapped children in Chicago since the Duncan administration shut down the LeMoyne school (which served children with autism) and Spalding (which served a range of children with disabilities) in 2003 and 2004. Since then, CPS has closed special education programs and displaced their students in growing numbers, while implementing cuts against others. In most cases, the children who have been displaced by the Duncan administration's cuts in special education have been promised equivalent services at the receiving schools but have not received them. Staff from those schools have often been forced into retirement or pulled out of their established specialties, while many of the services have been privatized.

Substance arrived at the Davis hearing after they had begun because of the early hour at which the hearing was scheduled.

Teachers from CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators) and CSDU (the Coalition for a Strong Democratic Union) provided information to Substance for this report. Although officers of the Chicago Teachers Union were present, CTU officials have refused to discuss news with Substance for several years since the election of President Marilyn Stewart. The union's publicist, Rose Maria Genova, refuses to provide Substance with media materials the union regularly e-mails and faxes to the corporate media in Chicago, so Substance is unable to report the CTU positions -- aside from those publicly stated by officers -- at this time.

Reporters gathering information

Extensive notes on the Davis hearing were provided to Substance and others by Kristine Mayle, a special education teacher who was present for the Davis hearings.

"As was the case last year, there were no Board of Education members present," Mayle said, "but there were representatives from various offices and departments of CPS in addition to the hearing officer. I counted 20 people total on the other side of the 'fence.'"

The 'fence' is one name for the railing that separates members of the Board of Education from the public at regular meetings of the Board in the Board's 5th floor chambers at 125 S. Clark St. (Often, most of the seats in the "public" section are also occupied by CPS officials, but that's another story for another time).

"The background I gleamed about Davis Developmental from the testimonies of parents, teachers, community partners includes the following," Mayle continued.

"First, Davis Developmental is a unique school that serves a very specific population of about one hundred 3-5 year olds with cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, and other health impairments. Students were described during the hearing as being "medically fragile" and "medically complex." Many rely on the school's specializations to provide feeding, ventilators, and medical monitoring in addition to meeting the educational needs of students."

Few people in Chicago outside of the disabilities rights community and teachers (and Education Support Personnel, or ESP) who serve these children have ever spent much time with such severely handicapped people. Since Arne Duncan began his drive to privatize as much of special education as possible, the specialized training of veteran teachers and ESPs who serve these young people (whether emotionally handicapped, as at Las Casas, or physically, as at Davis Developmental) have been denigrated while CPS policy has been to promote privatization and the deregulation of such services.

The specific plan for Davis follows previous special education attacks by the Duncan administration

"The Board is proposing to move Davis students into a facility to be shared with Langston Hughes School," Mayle continued. "It is unclear if staff from Davis will be employed and if so how many would be."

In the past, most of the staff who had been serving special needs students have been "dropped along the way", according to examinations of Board of Education staffing during the Duncan years. Whether the move was the closing of Spalding (which still remains closed, although it seems to be in line to be handed over to a private contractor by CPS) or the program for children with autism (LeMoyne), the pattern has been consistent for five years. The Board and CEO promise no diminution of services, then use the change to cut veteran staff and slowly for the privatization of services, one family at a time.

"Small Schools"?

"An especially interesting point brought up by both a teacher from Davis and another from Hughes is that when the Board was pushing small schools circa 2000-2001, they wanted to merge the two schools," Mayle continued. "The Board even held a Small School Design Competition and sought teacher and staff input on choosing the winning design. Teachers reviewed more than 150 sets of architectural plans and provided imput as to the medical and emotional needs of the students when planning the school. This school never came to fruition."

In January 2008, Arne Duncan joined Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and representatives of the Gates Foundation at Chicago's "Sherman School of Excellence" (one of the "Turnaround Schools" touted by corporate Chicago) to announce that Gates dollars would be going into "Turnaround" (and not longer to "Small Schools"). Later in 2008, Duncan ordered the closing of the small schools at Orr High School, where Mayor Daley had served as Principal for a Day. Orr is not a "Turnaround School", the small schools having been eliminated (and their teachers and other staff fired) in June 2008.

Davis Developmental Doomed?

"Most of the speakers on behalf of Davis seemed resigned to the fact that they would in fact be closing," Mayle continued, "but many appealed to the hearing officer that they be allowed to move the entire staff to Hughes to provide both continuity in medical care and to emotionally support the children that rely on them. They also asked that they be given expanded space and enrollment capabilities when they move to Hughes because there are so few schools in CPS that serve this population of students...

"There are very few schools in CPS that are equipped to handle medically fragile students and at a recent area walkthrough, the principal was told that they wished they could "clone the staff" at Davis because they were so adept at serving this population of students." The CPS executives who did the walkthrough were not present to speak on behalf of Davis. 


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