Chicago Public Schools Limiting Services for Students with Special Needs

Chicago Public Schools' students with special needs face new limitations

Amy Zimmerman, Director of Children and Families Partnerships at Legal Council, was featured in a story by WBEZ that exposes problems with Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) newest policy change affecting children with significant special needs.

For the first time, CPS is offering the parents of children who attend “cluster” programs, sometimes called “self-contained classrooms,” the opportunity to list three preferences for their child’s high school. However, parents are being asked to waive their legal right to transportation if the preferred school is located more than six miles from the student’s home. Transportation for these students is a service guaranteed by their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

In the past, students with severe disabilities were placed into a program by district officials, with parents having little say. But two weeks ago, a letter went out to parents asking them to rank their top three choices. It also included a map showing which schools have programs for severely disabled students.

This was good news for parents. That letter, however, also told parents that if their preferred choice is more than six miles away, they may be “required” to waive transportation in writing and agree to get their child to school themselves.

Amy Zimmerman, a program director at the Legal Council for Health Justice, said adding this provision is wrong.

“It is not a meaningful choice at all if they are severely limiting their transportation options,” she said. (Feb. 15, 2018)

While we applaud CPS’ effort to offer school choice to these students just as their peers are offered a choice of schools, we are dismayed to see that the district is trying, once again, to circumvent its legal obligation to provide transportation to the program which is most appropriate to each student’s needs.