Chicago Public Schools officials say they are committed to providing remedies to special education students who were previously harmed by illegal practices, and defended themselves against advocates’ accusations that the district has purposely dragged its feet on giving that giving support.
The Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reported Friday that out of10,515 families who were automatically eligible for compensatory relief after a state investigation in 2018 found they were illegally denied services, only 2%,or 214 of them, have received any assistance three years later.
On top of those who were due automatic relief, another 1,500 children were identified as having potentially been harmed, CPS records show. As of July, only 16 of those students, 1%, have received compensatory help and 360 have been deemed ineligible because they couldn’t prove their case.
Some advocates alleged district officials have intentionally made the process difficult to manage and taken their time rolling out the make-up services so that few children would receive remedies and the school system could subsequently use that as proof that few children were harmed.
“That narrative is obviously false and completely baseless,” district spokesman James Gherardi wrote in an emailed statement. The school system declined requests to make officials available for on-the-record interviews Friday.
“The district has always been committed to ensuring that students who may have been harmed were made eligible for remedies of support and services were provided with them.”
Gherardi said the pandemic affected the district’s ability to hire contractors and employees to operate the program, as well as hurt efforts to reach families remotely. He said the district has continued to improve its processes and incorporated suggestions from advocates.
The state’s order was handed down mid-2018, a year and a half before the pandemic.
Asked why the district has only provided remedies to 2% of families, Gherardi pointed out that “approximately 30% of the 10,515 students you are referencing are inactive students and no longer enrolled in CPS.” The Sun-Times and WBEZ reported that since 2018 at least 2,900 of those children have transferred out of the district, graduated, passed away or otherwise aren’t at CPS. But advocates who meet with the district monthly as mandated by the state said CPS is still required to reach those students’ families, even if they’re no longer enrolled.
A spokeswoman with the Illinois State Board of Education didn’t respond to questions Friday.
CPS’ special education department has also faced sizable staff turnover over the past few years as about 60 employees have moved on from the district or switched roles. Some have leveled allegations or filed formal complaints that the department’s chief, Stephanie Jones, has caused a toxic work environment.
Gherardi said CPS “takes allegations of this kind seriously” and has looked into the complaints about Jones but “was unable to substantiate any misconduct or mismanagement on the part of [department] leadership.” Top district leaders are working with the department to “identify and remedy and issues of concern,” he said.
Nader Issa is the education reporter for the Sun-Times. Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ.