CPS Special Education Survey Results


November 9, 2018 | by Emma Olson


Chris Yun

Education Policy Analyst


(312) 640-2134

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.

Key Findings

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.

  1. Three-fourths of teachers and staff reported one or more teachers or service providers being unavailable for students.
  2. The top three most unavailable service providers are: (1) special education teachers (50%), (2) paraprofessionals (42%), and (3) nurses (21%).
  3. CPS staff also commented that students’ IEP minutes are not being followed due to insufficient staffing resulting in unrealistic schedules and/or large caseloads.
  4. Various service providers are still unavailable: bilingual special education teachers, dedicated case managers, physical therapists, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, and special education teachers for students with visual impairment.

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 Parent Communication:

Inadequate dissemination of knowledge and lack of transparency are still significant problems in CPS.

  1. 72% of parents have not heard about the new CPS special education “Parent Advisory Council” and/or the Parent University, a monthly parent training on the special education rights of students.
  2. 60% of parents are generally aware that CPS has changed the special education policies mandated by ISBE as a result of its investigation into CPS’ special education program (ISBE Public Inquiry). However, less than 10% of parents have actually seen a copy of the newly changed policy guideline.

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.

Continuous Non-Compliance:

CPS is not following some of the ISBE-mandated policy changes, or the new law.

  1. Compensatory service discussion in an IEP meeting
    1. More than half (54%) of parents who had an IEP meeting this year responded that compensatory services were not considered despite ISBE’s mandate to CPS as a result of the Public Inquiry.
    2. Almost 80% of CPS teachers and other staff who have been to an IEP meeting reported compensatory services were not considered.
  2. Providing a draft IEP 5 days in advance to parents under Public Act 100-0993
    1. Two-thirds of parents (66%) who had an IEP meeting this year did not receive a draft IEP in advance despite the new law requiring CPS to do so.

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. 

Inappropriate Usage of Special Education Teachers and Aides:

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:

  1. “Since September 4, 2018, some special education teachers are currently being required/asked to teach in the general education classrooms without being certified to teach that grade level/subjects due to unavailability of certified and substitute teachers within CPS. Therefore, special education minutes outside the general education setting are not being delivered to the special education student.”
  2. “[S]ped teachers are being asked to revise students’ minutes under the guise of “student need” but more likely to fit them into the current schedule that sped teachers have available (i.e. not enough teachers so no one is available at that specific time to service the child for coteaching – so revise the IEP stating he doesn’t need such a high volume of minutes instead of hiring another teacher). The students’ minutes and placement should be the final say of the sped teacher who knows the student best. I also have students who are not receiving their full amount of minutes at this time and receive no supports in the classroom and students who should have paraprofessional support but parapros are pulled to be substitute teachers or run errands.”
  3. “Due to vacancies, diverse learners are in classes with non LBS1 [special education] certified teachers. Substitutes are often pulled from co-taught classes to cover other gen ed classes. Bilingual Diverse Learners are not receiving the appropriate services, their instructional needs are not being met by school…”
  4. “I and other sped teachers and sped paras are repeatedly directed to be substitutes in general education classrooms. Administration is often in the building on these days and does not follow the contract regarding coverage.”
  5. “Dedicated and shared paraprofessionals are being assigned recess and lunch duty (3 hours per day) instead of supporting students.”
  6. “My principal at XXX continues to pull special education teachers to act as substitute teachers. He calls us down to the office the morning of, tells us he is “canceling special ed for the day” and puts our students in random general education classes…”

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. 

Inadequate Training:

CPS teachers and staff are not fully informed of the corrective changes ISBE mandated after finding CPS’ violation of special education law.

  1. At the time of the survey, 54% of CPS teachers and other staff had not attended a training session on the new special education manual or new law.
  2. Twenty-five percent of teachers and other staff are unaware of a revised special education Procedural Manual with new changes and 77% of teachers and other staff have not seen a copy of the new Procedural Manual.

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. 

Initial Signals:

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.

  1. As of the survey period, approximately 70% of parents and more than 80% of teachers/staff have not experienced issues related to absence of a District Representative (DR), data collection, or computerized IEP system issues this school year.
  2. However, some teachers commented that DRs are still making a decision against an IEP team’s agreement, enforcing old illegal policies, and instructing teachers not to inform parents of missed service minutes (see Selected Comments).

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.