Education Policy Analyst
Survey instrument was prepared by Access Living and Legal Council for Health Justice for the special education Advocates and published on-line via SurveyMonkey through legal, teachers, civil rights, and parent advocacy networks. Survey was open from September 24, 2018 to October 12, 2018 and was available in English and Spanish. There were a total of 800 respondents: 194 parents, 554 teachers, principals and administrators, 1 student with a disability, and 51 other stakeholders (other stakeholders and a student with a disability data not included in this report).
The Advocates issued this survey to examine the current situation in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) special education program under the supervision of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and its Monitor. In May 2018 the ISBE found CPS’ policies violated special education law and subsequently appointed a monitor to oversee the district’s special education program for the next three years and carry out the agency’s corrective actions. We hope ISBE finds these survey results to be a helpful indicator of the current status of ISBE’s monitoring for further improvements. A total of 800 parents, teachers, students, and other stakeholders took the survey from September 24, 2018 to October 12, 2018.
The Advocates still found significant, disturbing service delivery issues as well as a lack of transparency on the part of CPS administrators. As a result, parents and CPS staff are still not well-informed about students’ rights or about the changes made this school year. To succeed, CPS reform requires stronger oversight by ISBE and stakeholders. The Fall 2018 CPS Special Education Issues survey results are briefly highlighted as follows:
Insufficient staffing is resulting in missing services despite ISBE’s oversight of CPS. Some students with disabilities are not receiving education services they are entitled to due to insufficient teachers and service providers.
Recommendation: The ISBE/Monitor must demand that CPS proactively recruit necessary positions while maintaining the quality and quantity of services to students. CPS’ well-publicized creation of new positions is meaningless because the district has still not filled vacancies from the previous budget. CPS is not only failing to provide regular teachers, aides, nurses, and other special education staff, but also neglecting to fill the vacancies with substitutes.
Inadequate dissemination of knowledge and lack of transparency are still significant problems in CPS.
Recommendation: ISBE and CPS must ensure that all CPS parents actually receive their parent letter as soon as possible. The survey results clearly show that CPS’ avenues for communicating with parents are not working. CPS must reconsider the effectiveness of the current method of communication and launch a robust campaign to inform parents. Mail and email them about the changes and actively invite them to be a part of policy discussions. An automated call to all CPS families should notify families to be watching for this parent letter.
CPS is not following some of the ISBE-mandated policy changes, or the new law.
Recommendation: ISBE should urgently finalize appropriate compensatory service policies and procedures, with the Advocates’ input, and reach out to parents. Although ISBE and CPS built an initial process to provide parents with a draft IEP and evaluation report to meet the requirements of Public Act 100-0993, the survey results show that actual practice is far from full compliance. Public Act 100-0993 aims to help parents be an equal member of an IEP meeting by informing them about education plans and service delivery. ISBE and CPS should review the current process and ensure compliance without inappropriately burdening school staff.
Students are missing their services because some school principals pull their teachers and aides out for non-special education purposes. Those principals deploy special education staff to work as substitutes in general education classes, as office staff, and as lunchroom/recess monitors. Thirty-eight teachers and other staff described how some schools improperly take special education services from students with disabilities. Below are selected comments from teachers:
Recommendation: ISBE must widely advertise that CPS families and staff can anonymously report school issues through the “Submitting Information to the ISBE Monitor” menu on its Monitor’s website by including information in the CPS teacher and staff training material, sending an email to all CPS staff, and distributing an informative flyer to all CPS schools. In addition, the Advocates strongly request that ISBE create a designated hotline for school staff so they can report special education violations without fearing retaliation. Any complaints received through the hotline must be registered and recorded with ISBE’s monitor of special education policies.
CPS teachers and staff are not fully informed of the corrective changes ISBE mandated after finding CPS’ violation of special education law.
Recommendation: The first training session that ISBE conducted took place in August, but a significant number of teachers and staff reported that they had not yet been given an option to attend the training. ISBE should speed up its special education training of CPS teachers and staff so they can carry out the corrective policy changes with the CPS special education program.
Due in large part to the Advocates’ extensive work throughout the State’s investigation, CPS reform is taking effect this school year. A majority of surveyed parents have not reported “blocks” against including IEP services that the team deems necessary. However, the findings are limited to parental and staff experience in the first month of School Year 2018- 2019. The high numbers of parents who have not experienced issues also include parents who have not yet attended an IEP meeting. Due to these limitations, it is too early to evaluate the effectiveness of CPS reform by ISBE. An end of the school year survey will show more accurate data of the impact.
Recommendation: ISBE continuously needs to enforce the corrected policies and collect feedback from parents and CPS staff throughout this school year. The above issues are related to the IEP process and most of the district’s IEP meetings are scheduled in Spring 2019. It is yet too early to say CPS’ special education program shows any measurable improvement.
The Advocates Group appreciates parents, student, teachers, and other CPS staff members, and advocates who contributed to this survey for students with disabilities in CPS. We will continue to work with ISBE and CPS as a watchdog.
The Advocates Group includes: Access Living; the Shriver Center on Poverty Law; Chicago Principals and Administrators Association; the Chicago Teachers Union; Parents 4 Teachers; Ounce of Prevention Fund; Legal Council for Health Justice; Raise Your Hand for IL Public Education; LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation); Equip For Equality; Potter and Bolanos, LLC; Matt Cohen and Associates; 19th Ward Parents for Special Education, Sharon Weitzman Soltman, and Jewish Child & Family Services.