Email Print

Survey: Services for students living with disabilities in jeopardy in Chicago’s public schools

CHICAGO—Results of a recent Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) survey of special education teachers show the magnitude of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s widespread cuts to services for Chicago public school students living with disabilities—cuts that will increase in the wake of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 2822, which would have provided $215 million to Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Nearly 900 special education teachers and classroom assistants, clinicians and paraprofessionals were surveyed and revealed a deep level of administrative ineptitude and neglect in their schools, where students have been denied or delayed evaluations, hundreds of teachers have been pressured to reduce or remove minutes of planning for students and at least 600 vacant special education positions are being filled by unqualified substitute teachers and administrators, or remain vacant.

The results of the survey, conducted by the CTU Research Department, come a day before the Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on its tentative agreement with the CTU—a vote that comes amidst major uncertainty over CPS funding. Last week’s veto of SB 2822 by the Illinois governor not only jeopardizes an already existing special education crisis in Chicago’s public schools, but also leaves the district with few options to meet its financial needs other than exercising local progressive revenue solutions or further cutting school resources.

“We have special education kids who are receiving literally zero services because schools are so short staffed,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “This is no way to run a school district, and that’s, in part, because we have a governor who has no idea how to run this state.”

Teachers responding to the survey reported losing supports such as direct clinician services, access to social workers, speech pathology minutes and occupational therapy. Ninety percent of survey respondents reported at least one major special education cut at their school, with 65 percent reporting the loss of special education classroom assistants and paraprofessionals.

“In my classroom with students with more severe disabilities, I don't have enough classroom assistants,” said Cielo Munoz, a special education teacher at William Penn Elementary School in North Lawndale. “If there was an emergency or fire, I wouldn’t have enough assistants to carry all of my students to safety.”

Survey respondents also expressed concern with the commingling of special education and general education budgets, making the accurate tracking of special education funds nearly impossible. There are also major fears over classroom overcrowding and the number of adults trained in trauma inside of school buildings, both due to the loss of special education teachers and staff. Half of all respondents reported at least three special education cuts at their schools.

"My daughter has multiple disabilities and she needs an assistant for everyday living tasks, like going to the bathroom,” said Juan Vaglienty, whose wheelchair-bound daughter attends Edison Park Elementary School and was once left alone in an elevator, according to her father.

“This is a big safety concern,” Vaglienty said. “They are taking advantage of special education parents who are overwhelmed, just trying to provide for their children.”

Tomorrow at 9 a.m., a group of parents and CTU community partners will lead a protest of special education cuts at the Chicago Board of Education to continue the call for Mayor Emanuel to release additional tax increment financing to offset Gov. Rauner’s bloodletting of Chicago’s public schools. The governor has made his intentions clear—destroy our school district—and it is up to Mayor Emanuel, the chief executive of one of the largest economies in the world and the nation’s third-largest school district, to do everything in his power to offset these cuts.

Chicago Teachers Union