The Illinois State Board of Education took on sweeping authority to supervise special education at Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday, voting to appoint an outside monitor who for at least three years will have to approve any changes to the district’s special ed policies and procedures.
ISBE will now meet with CPS to map out what state schools Superintendent Tony Smith described as “the road to transformation” after officials concluded that the district’s 2016 overhaul of special ed violated a swath of federal law and regulations.
“The corrective action and recommendations we offered today are the right first step to helping CPS fully serve all children and families,” Smith said in a statement. “The common good requires uncommonly good public schools.”
The ISBE vote Wednesday followed a state probe begun last fall after a group of special education advocates, bolstered by reporting from WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, asked for the state’s help in examining sudden and unpopular changes to special education at CPS, changes they believed were illegal and “driven by budgetary concerns.”
Among other things, state investigators held three public meetings in March and also collected some 8,600 pages of documents before releasing their report April 18.
In a press conference held after the state made its decision, Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the city’s board of education were “deaf, dumb and blind judges made of stone” to complaints that union members and parents brought before them.
“If they’re going to say ‘We’ve turned over a new leaf’ and ‘We hear you, and we’re going to now fix the problem,’ I want to know why they didn’t do anything to fix this problem for over a year when we brought them specific instances of this system being broken,” Sharkey said.
Advocates say a single independent monitor won’t be enough to clean things up.
“We cannot change this culture or practice at CPS without robust supports,” said Amy Zimmerman of the Legal Council for Health Justice, “and that’s going to require a significant amount not only of monitoring and ensuring compliance with the remedies that ISBE has put forth, but there’s also a requirement for a lot of technical assistance that they’re going to need.” […]
The district will have to get approval from the monitor to make any changes to special education policies or procedures, access to any and all meetings and trainings, as well as serving as the third party when staff, parents or advocates have a concern to raise.
Even the state board acknowledges it will be a heavy lift.
“It is a robust report,” said Stephanie Jones, general counsel for ISBE. “There’s a lot of requirements, and it’s probably more than one person can do. We acknowledge that. But we do believe that we have the staffers in the agency to support the monitor and provide the services that ISBE is requiring of itself to provide, through the recommendations, and also provide the oversight that we believe CPS needs.”