Advocates and parents in Chicago say students with disabilities are still being denied needed services, even though a state monitor is now overseeing the public school system’s special education program.
They submitted a letter Tuesday to newly appointed Illinois State Board of Education members calling out the state monitor for not doing more to force improvement. Among other things, they say the state monitor has not offered enough trainings for teachers and parents and is not collecting the information needed to devise an improvement plan.
The advocates say they are especially disappointed that more has not been done to repair damage to students who were denied services. A state investigation found that a Chicago Public Schools overhaul of special education resulted in illegal denials of services to students.
Advocates say that in order to accomplish all that needs to be done, the state monitor needs to hire additional staff.
These advocates brought problems with Chicago Public Schools’ special education to the attention of the state after a WBEZ investigation found officials quietly overhauled the system in a way that saved money but denied services to students. The state then conducted its own investigation, confirmed the problems and appointed a monitor to follow through on a corrective action plan.
That monitor, Laura Boedeker, on Tuesday outlined for board members what she has been doing since her appointment last June. Boedeker is an attorney who previously worked for CPS.
She said she has held trainings with 23,000 of 30,000 CPS teachers. Boedeker described what she says to teachers: “Our vision is to make special education, in partnership with general education, more robust and to find ways to improve the system across Chicago Public Schools.”
Boedeker also said she attends monthly parent universities in different parts of the city. These sessions give parents a chance to learn about their rights and give her an opportunity to listen to their complaints.
Boedeker acknowledged she is trying to strike a balance between being an enforcer and working with school district officials, who she said “took a beating” in the state investigation.
“I want them to see us as supporting them and guiding them,” she said, noting that her job is to “make things better, not to catch them at anything.”
Boedeker also told the Illinois Board of Education that CPS officials are opening hundreds of new special education and clinician positions — CPS now has more special ed teachers than it has had in the past five years — but it is having trouble filling open positions. She said shortages are at “crisis” levels.