Today, Chicago Public Schools 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 the Chicago Teachers 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.
The CTU’s strike in October 2019 was also a crucial lever for winning this demand. “This victory was also due to the CTU’s 11-day strike and our insistence on a contract article stating that no CTU members can have extra work due to the ISBE Corrective Actions,” explained special education teacher Sarah Chambers. “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.