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Chicago Special Ed Parents Say Services Still Being Denied

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Parents and teachers speak out about problems with special education at a rally in May 2017 on the South Side.

Parents and teachers speak out about problems with special education at a rally in May 2017 on the South Side.

Sarah Karp/WBEZ

Advocates say a survey they commissioned shows students are not getting needed special education services, proving that Chicago Public Schools’ program needs to be independently monitored.

The release of the survey comes one week before the state Board of Education is set to decide if CPS will face consequences for implementing a special education overhaul two years ago that a state inquiry said led to systemic denials and delays of services.

The monthslong state investigation found that the overhaul — which included changes in the way special education was funded, a new procedural manual, and a new electronic data system — prevented students from getting aides and transportation, among other things.

CPS officials have acknowledged some problems but said fixes are underway. Next year, the school district will return to the special education funding system it used before the overhaul. Parts of the procedural manual also either have been changed or will be soon, according to CPS officials.

School district officials have said they do not want a monitor nor do they think CPS needs one.

But the coalition of advocates who demanded the state investigation say problems with the long-troubled special education program aren’t resolved. They say 71 percent of the 2,200 parents, teachers, and administrators who responded to their survey said students still weren’t getting legally required services because schools lacked money.

“We believe they still can’t be trusted,” said Matt Cohen, a veteran special education attorney and part of the coalition of advocates. “The financial pressures that led them to want to make the cuts continue to be driving them to sacrifice kids services in the interest of saving money.”

Also, most teachers and administrators say they have not been trained to use the procedural manual, and most parents said they did not even know it existed.

Cohen said a monitor could make sure new policies that could hurt students aren’t implemented.

The advocates also want CPS to put aside $10 million for students whose education suffered due to the overhaul. The school district has suggested that, if the state demands this, it should pay for it.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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