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In a month dedicated to promoting inclusiveness and diversity, CPS moves to eject deaf and hard-of-hearing children from elementary school that has spent seven years building deep ties and a rich community among hearing and non-hearing students.

  • 7:00 a.m. Thursday, June 9: Educators, parents, students oppose mayor’s closure of deaf and hard-of-hearing program, Chase Elementary, 2021 N. Point St., Chicago.

CHICAGO — For Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students, inclusion is often an aspiration rather than a reality in CPS, with many children forced to change schools sometimes three or four times before they graduate from elementary school. Today, Chase Elementary is among only a handful of schools that offer DHH students the opportunity to attend the same school from pre-K through eighth grade, allowing them to maintain childhood friends, educators, support staff and school families. Yet instead of celebrating the program at Chase — the third largest DHH program in the city — CPS wants to remove all DHH students from the school and close the program next year. The school community is fighting back.

Students, parents, educators and CTU officers will join elected officials at 7 a.m., Thursday, June 9 at Chase, located at 2021 N. Point St., to call on Mayor Lightfoot and her hand-picked board to reverse course and preserve this vibrant program for dozens of deaf and hard of hearing students and hundreds of their classmates at Chase.

The CPS decision to close the DHH program came out of the blue this spring, with a district manager suggesting that “transportation” issues were initially behind the closure, although CPS since has backpedaled from that explanation. A district official subsequently said CPS was canceling the program because it needed another DHH program in a different area of the city.

DHH students, who make up just under 10 percent of the school population, don’t want to be ripped from their school community, and the larger Chase community doesn’t want to lose its beloved DHH students. The school’s latest outdoor mural prominently features sign language in its visuals and both of the school’s buildings are fully accessible, a rarity in CPS. The school community has spent seven years embracing their DHH students throughout their elementary school experience, beginning in pre-K, by providing a stable, nurturing environment that includes intensive supports AND fully embraces DHH students into classrooms and the larger school community.

Educators argue that Chase is a model of DHH programming that should be highlighted and replicated, not closed. Chase integrates hearing and non-hearing students so DHH children mix with, learn with and build relationships with their fellow hearing students, who also learn how to sign so they can speak with their deaf friends. That kind of deep engagement and collaboration, sustained throughout students’ grade school experience, helps both hearing and DHH students develop the empathy, maturity and social skills to embrace differences and thrive.

Chase created its DHH program in 2015 to address the isolation of individual deaf and hard of hearing classrooms and grade levels, which typically shuffle students from school to school. Chase instead has created a unique and loving continuum of PreK through eighth grade in one building. The program began with two teachers and fewer than 10 students and has grown to four teachers, three interpreters, and 29 students, graduating its first DHH-inclusive 8th grade class this year. Deaf culture has been integrated into the entire school community.

Most of Chase’s DHH students have been together now for almost the entirety of their childhood. The school has students who are Deaf Plus and require accommodations such as wheelchairs that Chase buildings can also accommodate, unlike most CPS schools. CPS has yet to provide data to support its decision to uproot these families’ lives, has failed to create a transition plan for special education students to implement this massive change – even though that’s required by law – and continues to ignore the most school community’s important stakeholders: parents and students who want this program preserved, not dismantled.

Enrollment at Chase, which is near the rapidly gentrifying Milwaukee Ave. corridor in Logan Square, has increased slightly, to just under 400 students, and the school was slated to see a funding increase this year. More than 70 percent of students are Latinx and low-income and about 30 percent have special education needs.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.