LETTER TO ISBE: CPS Special Education Update, February 2019

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This letter was sent by a special education advocacy group to members of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on the morning of February 26, 2019, prior to a presentation to ISBE members by the ISBE Monitor for Chicago Public Schools’ special education program. Legal Council continues to be an active member of the special education advocacy group.

Illinois State Board of Education Members:

This statement is presented on behalf of the consortium of Special Education Advocates that alerted ISBE in November of 2017 that the Chicago Public School District had created a Special Education policy environment in which students’ legal rights were routinely violated. On 5/16/18 the Office of the ISBE General Counsel and the Division of Special Education Services recommended that the ISBE find “that CPS engaged in policy, procedure and practice inconsistent with IDEA Part B and its implementing regulations.”

The Advocate Group appreciates the ISBE’s having validated our allegations through the Public Inquiry process as well as your having ratified the findings of the Public Inquiry Team through your commitment to the Recommended Essential Corrective Actions thereof.

We acknowledge that ISBE Monitor Laura Boedeker has been working diligently to address the problems with special education in Chicago that came to light as a result of the Inquiry process. We appreciate her efforts to resolve many of the systemic infractions and to address individual concerns subsequent to the issuance of the Corrective Actions.

However, the PowerPoint presentation being presented by Ms. Boedeker at the meeting of the ISBE today (2/26/19) overstates the progress being made to repair Chicago’s Special Education system. It does not, in the Advocates’ opinion, provide an accurate representation of the current state of Special Education programming in CPS, nor is it representative of the enormity and scope of the effort required to secure compliance by CPS.

We wish to make it known that nine months after the ISBE imposed the Essential Corrective Actions, Chicago Public Schools continues to:

  • Delay, deny and withhold services to students with disabilities
  • Enact policy decisions unilaterally without consulting the Advocate Group, parents or stakeholders
  • Avoid taking action to rectify several of the systemic violations that were identified by the Public Inquiry

Regarding compliance with the Inquiry’s Essential Corrective Actions, our concerns include the following:

      1. Student Specific Corrective Action
        The Inquiry Report (5/16/18) states that “The Public Inquiry Team found several instances where CPS practices may have delayed or denied services to individual students. It is ISBE’s expectation that the students whose services were delayed or denied as a result of the practices that were inconsistent with IDEA Part B must be identified and that opportunities to remedy the delay or denial must be offered when appropriate.
        ISBE and CPS will devise a plan to identify students whose services were delayed of denied. Subject to the approval of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, the plan will include at least the following:
        – A process for IEP teams to follow to examine the delay or denial of services and determine remedial opportunities;
        – A process that will allow ISBE to choose a sampling of IEPs from the schools it identifies as most affected by CPS’s policies and procedures and initiate a review of the delay or denial of services and remedial opportunities; and
        – An expedited Complaint procedure through ISBE for individual parents and families.”
        ● To date, no plan for the implementation of compensatory education has been established.
        ● CPS has not provided Special Education staff with guidelines for determining eligibility for Compensatory Education or for establishing parameters for restitution.
        ● We are unaware of a process for systematically identifying specific schools for Monitor review.
        ● To date, no plan for an expedited complaint procedure has been established.
      2. Correct Action Deadlines and Training Issues
        • Data Collection: The Inquiry Report states that “CPS and ISBE will work together to develop a data-driven approach to decision making that will allow students to receive services in a timely manner. CPS and ISBE will devise a data-driven decision making plan that will be communicated to all CPS staff and parents prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school year.”
          ○ To date, no plan of this nature has been formally established, nor to our knowledge is such a plan under development
        • Parent Trainings: The Inquiry Report states that “ISBE will provide training to parents regarding parents’ rights. Such training will take place within the first semester of the 2018-2019 school year. One training will take place in each network. CPS will assist ISBE by providing space for these trainings and by broadly advertising the trainings once scheduled.”
          ○ Not every network was provided with a training during the 1st semester
          ○ While trainings are ongoing, they are not “broadly advertised”
          ○ Notification is often not posted on the ODLSS website until days before the scheduled event
          ○ Trainings take place during the work day when most parents cannot attend; no parent trainings have been offered in the evening or on weekends
          ○ Attendance is very low; we are unaware of any parent training at which more than 10 parents were in attendance.
        • Staff Trainings: The Inquiry Report states that “CPS will provide training to all staff regarding the use of the SSM system and the Procedural Guidelines and will ensure that the SSM system and the Procedural Guidelines are consistent at all times. ISBE will approve the Procedural Guidelines before adoption and be invited to the training.”
          ○ Although many staff were trained by ISBE and CPS at the beginning of the year, no information has been provided as to how many staff have (and have not been trained)
        • Failure of CPS to meet with the Advocates: The Inquiry Report states that “ISBE expects CPS to meet with representatives from Advocate groups on a monthly basis to provide relevant updates regarding CPS’s special education system. The ISBE Monitor will be in attendance at these meetings.”
          ○ In the nine months since the Inquiry Report and Essential Corrective Actions were ratified by the ISBE, there has only been one ISBE sponsored meeting between CPS and the Advocates Group. The meeting had been arranged to discuss Student Specific Corrective Action Compensatory Education. As a critical member of CPS’s team was not in attendance, CPS professed an inability to participate productively in the meeting, and no work was accomplished.
      3. Communication
        • CPS has not been forthcoming in explaining the Inquiry and its findings to parents, educators and service providers.
        • The letter that CPS (in conjunction with the Monitor) finally sent to parents (in November 2018) was overly technical and difficult to understand. It did not adequately describe the nature of CPS’s non-compliance with federal and state law or inform parents of their child’s rights in response to it.
      4. The Monitor’s office is not sufficiently staffed to engage in the supervision of CPS and the implementation of the Essential Corrective Actions. In order for the Monitor’s work to be thorough, timely and effective, additional staffing is required. The Advocates have consistently maintained that the Monitor’s office should have at least six full-time staffers in order to adequately address the myriad and complex circumstances created by CPS’s systemic violation of IDEA Part B and its implementing regulations.

In addition to issues directly related to the Public Inquiry, the Advocate Group would also like the ISBE to be aware of the following:

  1. Unfilled positions for Special Education Teachers, Related Service Providers and Paraprofessionals in CPS are a major cause of widespread delay and denial of the provision of IEP services.
  2. CPS does not employ a system by which to track the delivery of special education minutes in order to insure compliance, nor to our knowledge is such a mechanism under development.
  3. Nursing services in CPS are inadequate, and many students are denied a FAPE due to lack of medical care in school. CPS is using contractors to provide services in a manner that is inconsistent and unreliable.

We share these concerns with you in the hope that the ISBE will continue to require CPS to provide meaningful correction to their systemic violations and to assure that the thousands of children adversely affected by their illegal policies are made whole. We also ask that you allocate additional staff to the Monitor’s office to insure adherence to the Essential Corrective Actions and CPS compliance thereto.

We welcome the opportunity to respond to any questions/concerns/comments at your convenience.