Illinois State Board of Education meeting hears the CPS Special Education Inquiry Report... CPS Needs to Make Changes...

The ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) monthly meeting, held at the Thompson Center on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, was filled to capacity. This crowd was there due to the report of their investigation into CPS’s special education practices.

Members of the advocacy groups that filed the request for ISBE to investigate were present and held a press conference before the meeting in the main lobby in the Thompson Center. At that press conference, Matt Cohen, lawyer for the coalition of special education advocacy groups spelled out a number of remedies they feel are needed to rectify the situation. Some of their demands included: to have a ‘special master’ to be put into place up to five years to oversee that the changes are being made by Chicago Public Schools; $10 million fund set up to pay for compensatory services due to schools unable to give students the services they required; funding for training of parents, teachers, clinicians and other school staff; revise the rules about how much data is needed to proceed with adding or changing services for special education students

Stephanie Jones, ISBE General Counsel gave each Board member a binder with the findings and introduced the Public Inquiry team and gave a summary of the facts they had compiled. The Team will present their recommendations to the ISBE Board at the May meeting. Ms. Jones felt the board members need to read the materials given to them in order to make an informed decision.

Here are the web links for both the power point presented at the 4/18 meeting and the Team’s Final Report: She said the Public Inquiry Team

The Sun-Times reported that the advocates felt the state probe did not go far enough. Here is the article by Stefano Esposito:

The findings of a just-released state probe into how Chicago Public Schools handles special education funding and procedures is a good start but doesn’t go far enough, says the group that sought the investigation.

“The findings capture the technical violations, but kids were affected, kids didn’t get aides, kids got injured, they didn’t get summer school, they didn’t get transportation,” said Matt Cohen, an attorney for the advocates who brought the original claim against CPS. “What we really need to see now is what does the board do with the recommendations.”

“There is a lack of regular, coordinated and comprehensive trainings to provide CPS special education staff the knowledge that they need to implement the special education system,” ISBE’s general counsel Stephanie Jones told the board.

Jones also said the probe found significant problems with CPS’ electronic forms used to develop individual programs for kids in need of special education services. Updating those forms often required the approval of a school principal or a district official, who sometimes didn’t show up for meetings where the changes were to be made, delaying services for students.

“ISBE’s bombshell findings affirm what our rank and file members have been documenting about this disaster for two years,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey in a written statement. “Thanks to the excellent investigative work of local reporters, we know that the motivation behind CPS’ changes to special education policy was based on one overarching goal: to cut costs, no matter how catastrophic the consequences for our students.”

The state probe comes on the heels of a WBEZ investigation, which found that CPS had overhauled special education two years ago — an overhaul that resulted in savings for the district but major service cuts for students.

In an emailed statement, CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson said, “CPS is committed to ensuring that all diverse learners receive a high quality education that meets their unique needs, and we have taken significant steps in recent months to improve special education, including adding additional staff and giving parents more ways to participate in the process. We’ve also listened to principals’ requests and changed our budgeting process to help schools better deliver services.

“We’re grateful that ISBE acknowledged the progress we’ve made so far, along with their commitment to work collaboratively with us on further improvements.

“As we’ve said before, we know that some reforms were done too quickly and needed more involvement from our parents and educators. We also believe that we have more work to do to make sure that we’re giving all our students the services they need, and look forward to refining special education services for all our students.”

Jones said Wednesday that her team would be at ISBE’s monthly meeting in May to make recommendations.

“We want to be able to provide CPS with both information and knowledge and assistance to make sure they can go forward into the [2018-19] school year and make the changes they need to make to make sure that their system runs smoothly,” Jones said. []

Sarah Karp from WBEZ also reported in the meeting:

A state investigation found “systemic problems” with special education in Chicago Public Schools that “delayed and denied” services to children, according to a report released by the Illinois State Board of Education Wednesday.

State board of education members were briefed Wednesday on the report, the culmination of an extensive investigation into Chicago Public Schools’ special education program.

A “public inquiry” team appointed by the state began investigating CPS late last year after a WBEZ series on problems with special education and after advocates demanded action.

Advocates alleged that a recent overhaul of special education by the school district led to delays and cutbacks in services for students. The program serves about 50,000 children and costs the school district about $900 million annually.

WBEZ reporter Sarah Karp shares highlights from the report and the state of special education in Chicago now.

State documents service delays and denials

Sarah Karp: It’s important to start by saying that this type of inquiry by the state board of education is unprecedented. The state charged a panel of lawyers to do a very thorough investigation.

They collected more than 8,000 pages of documents and held community meetings and official hearings that included hours and hours of testimony.

The findings are very technical. Special education is complicated and dictated by many laws and rules.

But here’s the bottom line: For the most part, the state panel found systemic problems with the procedures put in place by Chicago Public Schools in the 2016-2017 school year. The panel said some of these new procedures, which are still in place this year, resulted in delays in support for kids or in some cases wrongful denials.

The inquiry team also found that the appeals system put in place for schools to ask for more help for their students was ineffective and led to even more delays and denials.

Advocates say findings back up their concerns

Karp: The head of special education for CPS was at the board meeting Wednesday and told board members that the school district is already making changes and is open to collaborating with the state, parents, and advocates. But she didn’t comment specifically on the findings.

After the meeting, advocates said they thought this was a win, that the inquiry team had backed up all their claims.

However, special education attorney Matt Cohen said he thought they could have gone a step further.

“The findings don’t capture the fact that thousands are injured by these policies,” Cohen said. “Kids didn’t get aides. They didn’t get summer school. They didn’t get transportation” to school.

The inquiry team also did not address why the school district overhauled special education.

Advocates charge it was an attempt by the cash-strapped school district to save money. CPS CEO Janice Jackson has admitted publicly that cost was a factor, and some documents collected by the state actually reference things like cost-benefit analyses being done to see how changes would affect the bottom line.

But CPS also has maintained that part of the impetus for putting in new systems and procedures was to make sure that services were consistent throughout the district and to make sure kids were getting support to help them perform better academically.

What happens next

Karp: Now that the findings are out, state board members have a month to go over them. At the May board meeting, the state board of education’s general counsel will issue recommendations.

A coalition of special education advocates wants the state to appoint a monitor that CPS would have to go through before implementing any new policies.

They also want the school district to put aside a pot of $10 million for parents who feel their children didn’t get services because of this overhaul.

CPS strongly opposed the appointment of an independent monitor. Also, CPS officials say that the state should help provide additional money for services.

Steps CPS is taking to improve special education

Karp: Forrest Claypool, the Schools CEO that spearheaded the overhaul, is no longer with school district.

The overhaul came out of his office, and the WBEZ investigation found he hired politically connected consultants to orchestrate it. These were auditors who didn’t have any experience with special education. And while he downplayed their role, the new CEO Janice Jackson says she’s no longer using any of these consultants.

Claypool also denied he was cutting special education. But it is now clear the budget was cut.

And on Tuesday, Jackson announced she was restoring special education funding. Special education will get an additional $29 million next school year. It’s the only area that seems to be getting a major boost.

Jackson has said that one of her top priorities is getting special education right.

But advocates and parents say they are still experiencing problems. They say that CPS is taking baby steps forward, but there’s a long way to go.