Special education teachers—and their students—reaped some of the biggest wins from our strike. Our newly ratified contract will improve working conditions for educators and learning conditions for students, but our task now is to understand how to enforce this new language and the first stage in that is knowledge of both our contract and special education law.
The union structures of the Professional Problems Committee (PPC) and grievance procedures will be vital to ensuring enforcement of many of our new and continuing special ed provisions. The special ed team should meet first and review the following articles one by one and agree on requests/solutions to be presented to the principal via the PPC.
In addition, organizing within your SPED team, your building, and alongside parents and community allies also will be pivotal to enforcing our contract. Our special ed parents/guardians are some of our best allies in holding CPS accountable to following sped law and our contract.
Lastly, we will continue to run union-wide campaigns led by our rank and file members around special education issues. We encourage all members to join in these ongoing fights, but for now, let’s take a look at some of the most important special education wins from our new contract and big news regarding compensation for thousands of students illegally and improperly denied special education services by the district.
Winning case manager positions was the special ed bargaining team’s number one demand. For the first time in our union’s history, case management is listed in our contract as a separate, dedicated position and is no longer only considered an extra “duty” members must take on in addition to other full-time work. This win was major.
Unfortunately, though we fought as hard as we could, the ratios of the case management language are not where want them to be. The district has until 2023 to roll out these new positions. That leaves us with advocacy we need to continue. We were able to get the district to agree to including 504s and Speech-only IEPs into their formula at a 10:1 ratio. This will help with the allocations. Overall, this new language will affect 387 schools and add 170 case managers. Here are the allocation numbers:
In addition to the 30 case manager positions added in fiscal year 2020, the Board agreed to the following staffing by July 30, 2023:
- .5 Case Manager position for 50-104 students with IEPs.
- 1.0 Case Manager position for 105-174 students with IEPs.
- 1.5 Case Manager positions for 175-239 students with IEPs
- 2.0 Case Manager positions for 240-299 students with IEPs.
- 2.5 Case Manager positions for 300+ students with IEPs.
Special education law
There is new language in our contract (21-5) which includes following special ed law: “Decisions on the development of the IEP shall be made solely by the IEP team, pursuant to state and federal law, and reflective of the continuum of services.” We know that CPS continues to break special education law. But often, school workers are not able to stand up to these violations. The law is often designed to empower parents and guardians more so than school staff, but with this new language, we can now grieve legal violations. This provision gives us more protections to report illegal actions and a clear process to follow when violations occur.
IEPs are legal documents and you have the right to be given directives in writing to protect yourself. Use the IEP Notes page to record any directives that come from the meetings and use the IEP Dissent page if you disagree with any directives. Thanks to this language, you may now file grievances when illegal directives are given outside the IEP process. The IEP team solely decides on the best education plan for each child. Any outside coercion should be documented and grieved.
During bargaining, CPS tried to remove the legal language that protects the 70/30 class size ratio for general education settings—that a general education classroom can have no more than 30 percent of students with IEPs—but we were able to defend that language.
As you develop IEPs, be sure to consider all of the student’s settings, including non-core subjects such as world language, art, or music. Be sure to check the Areas of Needs page for any subject that the IEP team can demonstrate the student struggles with. In order to defend the 70/30 ratios, those needs should be documented in the IEP. Then, be sure that principals and scheduling coordinators are following this law. Use your PPC to intervene and then file grievances if the principal refuses to comply. This also applies to upholding ISBE guidelines for class sizes in the separate class setting.
Compensation for illegally denied services
As we neared press time, the district announced that it would earmark millions of dollars to compensate more than 10,500 students illegally and improperly denied special education services by the district. Such a remedy is a major step forward in correcting the wrongs that CPS and the mayor’s appointed Board of Education inflicted on our students with disabilities. This unprecedented action by CPS is the result of years of advocacy by our union and other special education activists.
“From the beginning, we called on CPS to end its drive to save money at the expense of some of the most vulnerable members of our school communities,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We are relieved that CPS has finally acknowledged that it’s time to right these wrongs.”
This breakthrough would not have happened without the tireless work of a coalition of parents, advocates, disability rights groups and community organizations, in concert with teachers, paraprofessionals, SECAs (special education classroom assistants), case managers and clinicians—educators who are CTU and SEIU members. These organizations and individuals held “know your special ed rights” trainings across the city, spoke monthly at Board of Education meetings, and testified at the inquiry hearings held by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Our strike was also a crucial lever for winning this demand. “This victory was also due to our insistence last October on a contract article stating that no CTU members can have extra work due to the ISBE Corrective Actions,” special education teacher Sarah Chambers said. “We won this article during the last hours of the strike. In the end, this article forced CPS to provide compensatory services to all 10,000 students.”
Even though this announcement should be celebrated, it’s important to acknowledge that many parents and educators believe that far more than 10,500 students with IEPs were not provided with the services to which they were entitled between 2016 and 2018, and some students are still being denied and delayed services even now.
In addition to case management, special education workload reduction was a top priority in bargaining. Unfortunately, we did not win the types of real relief we sought, including reinstating the morning prep for elementary school. This issue will also be an ongoing fight. But the contract includes new language and more money attached to workload relief that should help alleviate some workload issues.
You will recall that CPS initially proposed a flat “stipend” of $45 per IEP for special education teachers as a response to workload relief demands. This signaled that CPS is well aware of the amount of work we do off the clock. The $45 was an attempt to recognize some of that work. However, after discussions with many rank and file CTU members, the bargaining team concluded that this stipend was 1) woefully insufficient and 2) highly divisive.
Members were concerned that paying only one member of the IEP team undermines the collaborative effort these documents are supposed to represent. Also, members repeatedly told us what they need is time, real workload relief, not simply a small amount of extra money. So, in negotiations, we dropped the stipend idea and moved that roughly $2 million dollars into the workload relief funds (explained below.)
Here is the new language on workload relief (21-16): “Where possible, Principals shall use either substitutes or release time (from principal directed preps, lesson plans and/or other paperwork and workload requirements) as determined through the PPC to provide adequate time for special education teachers to complete these duties during the work day. If workload issues cannot be solved by the principal and/or the PPC, then the issue may be brought to the Joint Committee.”
While this language is not as strong as we wanted, the Union’s lawyers assure us this is defensible. The onus is now on principals to prove that providing release time or releasing staff from other duties was “not possible” which is a hard position to defend. Excusing special ed teachers from principal-directed preps on weeks when IEPs are due, for example, is possible in most circumstances, especially when grade-level meetings rarely prioritize special education needs.
This new language should be used in conjunction with (45-4.7) which increased by five times the workload reduction funds available to schools, from $500,000 to $2.5 million. The money will be distributed to schools based on the number of IEPs, but special ed teams should decide how they wish these funds to be used. They should share their recommendation with the PPC and then the PPC will work with the principal to implement the relief.
You may opt to buy substitute coverage or ask to be paid for work before or after school. And you now have significantly more money to spend. If problems arise, the next step is to reach out to the Joint Sped Committee. We need to ensure principals provide the relief we won. Again, contact Lisa Pattara-McGrane at the union with questions or concerns.
In addition, the contract contains new language about the equitable disbursement of IEPs. Your special ed team should help determine what makes sense in terms of equitable workloads for IEP writing. Remember, this provision is designed to help improve working conditions. Use it as makes sense for your building.
We also won language that prioritizes the development and implementation of IEPs, so educators should should not have non-IEP-related work such as network-mandated progress monitoring tools, data analysis for inappropriate assessments, grade-level PDs unrelated to IEPs, or other non-special education related work piled on them.
We also won protections against the district dumping the extra workload from their massive failures to provide services during the Claypool years onto teachers’ backs (21-16). If you are asked to work on the Student Specific Corrective Action (SSCA), you must either be released from other duties or be paid for the extra work. This includes all bargaining unit members including case managers.
We got guaranteed collaboration time in the beginning of the school year for special ed. Principals must provide that time during the principal-directed PD days. Have your PPC or PPLC help determine what that collaboration time looks like starting next school year.
Lastly, don’t forget that sped teachers should be consulted on case load development. We recommend the entire sped team meets each year to develop schedules and case loads together.
The contract (7-2) guarantees there will always be at least one special education teacher on the text committee, which should exist in every school. This committee should be presenting recommendations to the PPC on purchase of any texts or curriculum materials. The sped teams at schools should be discussing needs of the special ed program including purchasing curricula like the Wilson Reading Program, Unique Curriculum, computer-based programs, sensory needs, or any other necessary resources.
(21-15) All schools are allocated funds specifically for special education, but many members are not aware of these funds. This new language requires principals to disclose how much money is available for special ed, specifically, each year and to work with special education teachers to acquire the needed resources, materials, or trainings. Special ed teachers and staff should advocate for any modified curriculum, assistive technology, classroom-based evaluation tools, sensory materials, or other special ed specific curricula that your school needs.
Special education staffing was not included directly in the Union’s contract demands because, unlike general education teachers which are determined by enrollment, special education teachers are assigned based on the school’s IEP caseload. To ensure proper staffing levels for special education teachers, we must protect the IEP process as well as its implementation. Writing strong, comprehensive IEPs should dictate the appropriate numbers of positions.
In addition, we won language that says the Special Education Joint Committee will work with CPS to develop the allocation process. Beginning next year, the Union is hoping to ensure a smoother allocation process and to avoid the all too common situation where schools cut positions in the Spring only to have to rehire in the Summer/Early Fall. This process is chaotic and does not provide the stability our students and schools need. We hope to advocate change.
To address the crisis around vacant special education positions, CPS will extend the years of service allowance for new hires from two years to eight years. We hope this will attract special ed teachers to our district. Unfortunately, this new policy is not retroactive. We also discussed extending the pipeline for recruitment including the district supporting paraprofessionals becoming teachers (9-21).
We won language (27-3) which clarifies that, when determining subbing for “emergency situations,” special education teachers must be the “very last to be called, after available nonteaching certificated personnel have been assigned.” This includes the assistant principal and principal. There is no rotation or turn taking. Special education services are not to be discontinued until every single other body in the building has been pulled.
And, if student services are lost due to emergency class coverage, we added new language which provides that any lost IEP minutes will be recorded and reported to parents no later than the end of each quarter. We believe this will protect special ed teachers from being forced to sub.
CPS also agreed to create a specialized sub pool for special education substitutes and pay people with special ed training at a higher rate. The district also is developing a geographic-based group of cadre subs who will be assigned to schools as needed. And, we can now bank up to 244 sick days. All these changes should result in some relief from the substitute crisis.
Memorializing Centralized Budgeting of Special Ed Positions
The bargaining team called this provision “The Claypool Article.” Special ed teacher and paraprofessional positions will be paid centrally. For those of us working during the 2016-2018 school years, we remember how chaotic student-based budgeting was for special ed (though the fight continues to abolish this budgeting policy completely!) There will be no perverse incentives to save money by cutting special ed staff.
- (Article 17) Blended Pre-K classrooms will be eligible to request additional SECAs per the same appeal process based on need.
- (21-5) All specialized programs will be listed on the CPS website.
- (21-20.1) “A Special Education teacher shall have access to assessment data, grade book, grades, student roster, and attendance data for all students served by the Special Education teacher, including any general education students in that teacher’s co-teaching classroom.”
- (21-20.3) Principals shall be responsible for moving specialized furniture.
- (21-20.4) “Where administratively possible, the number of lesson preparations for Special Education inclusion and co-teachers in high school shall not exceed three, and every effort shall be made to keep the number at two.”
- (44-36.7) Staff who regularly interpret orally during IEP meetings will receive a $500 stipend per semester.
- (39-2.3) Nothing in your evaluation can contradict the special education REACH addendum. This means REACH evaluators must use the special ed addenda during your evaluations.
- (24-4.1) Any 1:1 paraprofessionals will be given preference to follow their student to ESY to maintain continuity of services.
We won many things, but still have much work to do. The special education committee and the Special Ed Task Force are running “Know Your Rights” trainings to help our special educators and related personnel enforce these provisions. We will be increasing the roll of the Special Education Joint Committee to monitor and enforce illegal actions and help ensure our contract and the law are being followed.
But more than anything, getting our students the special education services they are entitled to depends on each one of us knowing our rights, knowing our contract, knowing the law, and knowing how to proceed when violations happen. We must not be afraid to file grievances if administrators ignore special education contract provisions or the law.
We must work united, through our PPCs and union structures, never going it alone. We must support the schools without current strong PPCs. Other actions you can take when violations occur, beyond using your PPC and the grievance process, are contacting the ISBE Monitor at firstname.lastname@example.org and filing complaints with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, OCR.Chicago@ed.gov.
Join the CTU Special Educators Facebook page: bit.ly/SPEDFB. Any interested special educators may join the CTU Special Ed Committee (CTU’s standing committee, contact Lisa Pattara-McGrane at the union) and attend the Special Ed Task Force, a collation of special ed staff, parents, and advocates that meets the first Tuesday of every month at the CTU.
We will continue to work closely in collaboration with parents and guardians as well as special education advocacy and legal groups, organizing ourselves to best advocate for the services our students need and the working conditions we as school staff require to do our jobs.
We are always stronger together. And together, we can improve special education in the Chicago Public Schools.