For Cripes Sake! Stop Illegal Overcrowding of CPS Classrooms and Follow the City of Chicago Municipal Code.

Class Size Matters

With the imminent start of the School Year and class rosters being finalized as we speak, I want to talk about class size and the City of Chicago Municipal Code. Small class size has been proven to significantly to improve student outcomes, especially for low-income and minority students. Yet, in CPS we regularly see class sizes of 30+ students, numbers that can be particularly devastating for younger learners. Education Researcher William J. Mathis from the University of Colorado and the National Education Policy Center published Researched Based Options for Education Policy Making, where he gave the following recommendations:

“• Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy. All else being equal, lowering class sizes will improve student outcomes.

• The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children. Conversely, increases in class size are likely to be especially harmful to these populations — who are already more likely to be subjected to large classes.

• While lowering class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove the more cost-effective policy overall particularly for disadvantaged students. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will likely result in additional substantial social and educational costs in the future.

• Generally, class sizes of between 15 and 18 are recommended but variations are indicated. For example, band and physical education may require large classes while special education and some laboratory classes may require less.”

Mathis, W. J. (2016, June). Research-Based Options For Education Policymaking. Retrieved from https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Mathis RBOPM-9 Class Size.pdf

The Municipal Code was Revamped after the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire to Keep Students Safe in Times of Need for Emergency Egress.

The point of small class size is so kids can quickly and safely leave a classroom, traverse the hallways and exit the building in times of emergency, such as fire, chemical spill, gas leak, etc. Many of these fire codes pertaining to schools were written in the aftermath of the tragic Our Lady of the Angel’s school fire that killed 87 children and 3 Catholic nuns that occurred on December 1, 1958, right here in Chicago. The Municipal Code was written with student safety in mind, yet CPS blatantly ignores the City Fire Codes (and CFD and the Mayor’s Office allows it) as it shoves more and more students into classrooms designed for a predetermined and limited amount of people based on classroom size. Overcrowding of any school is considered dangerous and hazardous to life safety and, coincidentally, an overcrowded classroom is not conducive to learning.

As Parents and Community Members, We Can Help Hold CPS, The Chicago Fire Department and The City of Chicago Accountable for Following the City Fire Codes

Below is a step by step process that anyone can use to alert the Chicago Fire Department about dangerous and hazardous classroom overcrowding.

Step 1.  Know the Law!

Title 13-56 of the Municipal Code of Chicago (see attached info at the end of this post) governs the occupancy of all Type I and II schools in the City of Chicago.  Complaints for overcrowding must be filed with the Chicago Fire Department because the CFD is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (“AHJ”).  If you witness overcrowding or what appears to be overcrowding in a classroom or you have documented proof of overcrowding in a classroom pleases take action by reporting it to the Chicago Fire Department via 311.

Step 2.  Call 311.

After wading through numerous prompts to direct your complaint to a department or agency that can’t legally address complaints for overcrowding you will be greeted by a 311 data entry specialist.  The data entry specialist will say their name which may be inaudible when first spoken.  Kindly ask them to repeat their name and provide the spelling of their name before going further.  Write down the name they give you and repeat the spelling of their name to verify you have the correct spelling of their name.  It’s important to establish this information up front and it will be clear later in this process why you will need their last name.

Step 3.  Provide a description of your complaint.

I’m providing a sample complaint that worked for me so you can model a successful overcrowding complaint here:

“Hello, I’m calling to file a complaint of overcrowding pursuant to Title 13-56 of the Municipal Code of Chicago for the overcrowding of my child’s [         [1]] Grade classroom in Room number [____[2]] at [____________________[3]] located at [_________________[4]  The classroom in question had over [      [5]] persons in it on [____________[6]] and the room is only big enough to have no more than [____________[7]] persons in it.  Please route my complaint to the Bureau of Fire Prevention in the Chicago Fire Department.  They need to send a fire inspector to determine if this classroom is in fact overcrowded.”

[1] Child’s Grade level

[2] Child’s Room number

[3] School Name

[4] School Address

[5] Total number of people estimated to be in a given classroom during the school day.  You can determine an estimate or approximation for the total number of people in a classroom in a number of ways: (1) at open house, note the number of chairs in the classroom and the square footage of the of the classroom; (2) ask school staff for the total number of students in your child’s individual classroom and the number of aides, as well as the square footage of the classroom. 

[6] Date that you observed the classroom or date where school is in session.

[7]  The number of people allowed in the classroom at any given time, per the Municipal Code.  How to calculate that number:  Note classroom length and width in linear feet.  (e.g., Classroom is 20 feet in length and 30 feet in width – 20 x 30 = 600 square feet, divided by 20 square feet, which the number of square feet per person set out in the Municipal Code – 600 ÷ 20 = 30 total people allowed in 20 x 30 classroom. 

Step 3a. Request that the 311 call taker read the documented text of your complaint back to you so you are clear that it says what you said, after you complete the process of communicating your complaint verbally to the 311 operator.

Step 3b. If the 311 call taker replies saying she/he will have to route this complaint back to CPS or an organization, agency or department other than the Chicago Fire Department please inform the call taker that the Chicago Fire Department is the Authority Having Jurisdiction regarding illegal overcrowding of Type I and Type II schools and that if she/he does not route the complaint to the fire department you will need to speak to their supervisor (on the day I phoned in this very complaint the call taker refused to route my complaint to the Fire Department).  I informed the call that the Bureau of Fire Prevention in the Chicago Fire Department receives referrals for overcrowding for schools, nightclubs exhibitions and places of public assembly.  The situation at my child’s school is dangerous and hazardous, should there be a need for emergency evacuation of the classroom. 

Step 4.  Don’t Take No for an Answer

If the 311 call-taker refuses to route your call to the Chicago Fire Department, you’ll need to document the time of your call and ask for a SR# (Service Request number).  You will need this number so you can bring it directly to the Chicago Fire Department, Bureau of Fire Prevention for additional follow-up.  My best guess is that the Fire Prevention Bureau will have to request the 311 complaint be routed directly to them so it can get closed out by the appropriate governmental agency. 

Step 5.  Wait 3 to 7 days and call back to 311 with your SR#

Call back to 311 and request the disposition of your complaint and say something like:

“Hello, I’m calling to follow-up on a complaint I made recently for overcrowding in a school.  My SR# is 16-01234. Can you please look it up and provide me with the disposition of the complaint?”

The 311 operator may only be able to share limited information regarding the complaint but at the very least they should be able to tell you whether or not the agency or department they routed the complaint to closed out the complaint.

Step 6.  Check back with the school to determine if the classroom was inspected for overcrowding.

Call the school principal and ask if the Fire Department reported to the school to investigate a complaint for overcrowding in the classroom that you complained about.  Give the particulars of the complaint to the principal to include the SR#.  If the principal tells you that the inspector was here but didn’t say one way or the other if the complaint was valid or not valid (founded or unfounded) you will then have to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the city via their website.

Step 7.  File a FOIA with the Fire Department

Go online to www.CityofChicago.org to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to follow up on your initial complaint.  Include the SR# and request any and all documentation generated by the Chicago Fire Department from the Office of the Fire Commissioner as well as the Bureau of Fire Prevention.  Request the Fire Inspectors Name and Badge number as well as any written correspondence sent to the inspector regarding this complaint (include SR#).  Request the Notice of Violation (“NOV”) if issued to the Responsible Party for the Chicago Public Schools for any and all violations written while on inspection at the (insert name of school here).

If it is determined, based on the information you receive from your FOIA that your complaint for overcrowding a school classroom is valid and you do not see a Notice of Violation written by the Fire Department to the Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson or other Responsible Party, please post your information online for all to see. Don’t stand-by while the Fire Dept., CPS and the City ignore the laws designed to protect the life safety of your child. Do something about it! Take your complaint to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (Chicago Fire Dept.) to compel CPS to follow the Law!

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I hope you find this useful. Thanks for reading!

NTA, Englewood and Montefiore: Rahm’s Racist, Ableist and Classist Agenda Plays Out in Chicago

Montefiore pic

Montefiore was a Chicago Public School that provided therapeutic special education services for students Grades 7 through 12 who had severe emotional disorders.

CPS “stealth” closed Montefiore, its only therapeutic day school, by simply not placing any new students there, transferring out existing students and staff and then eliminating a program that served 7th through 12th Grade students who had emotional disorders so severe that their behaviors had led to previous expulsions from other schools within CPS. These are the kinds of kids who now have NO options within CPS other than expensive private placement in a therapeutic day school — the procurement of which often requires hiring an attorney, which is commonly impossible for low-income families.  The kids that Montefiore served, one of whom was Laquan McDonald,  are Emanuel’s “throw-away” population — young people who have mental illness, little employment opportunity  and few coping skills and who, in the face of little or no appropriate intervention, become a statistic in Chicago’s shameful legacy of supporting a school-to-prison-pipeline.

The building that housed Montefiore is now going become a private Waldorf School with a tuition of around $13,000 per year.  I don’t begrudge the Waldorf School taking over the property, but I abhor that it represents the racist, ableist and classist priorities of Chicago’s Mayor, who continues to divest in programs and schools that support the neediest of Chicago’s children.  The neediest children I speak of include black and brown low-income students in Englewood — who learned yesterday that CPS plans to close four Englewood High Schools, recklessly displacing 400 students out of their neighborhood schools and disrupting the education and community belonging to these young people — all smack dab in the middle of their transition to adulthood.  The neediest children also include CPS students who have emotional disorders so severe that they cannot successfully navigate their neighborhood school.  The neediest children also include those children who have special needs who, under Emanuel’s tenure, are having to endure a system that has been rigged with a $14 Million accounting consultant-crafted special education procedure manual designed to cut costs and undermine special education services and IEP Team decisions.
We need to look no further than the Emanuel-driven CPS plan to close NTA to see who is important to Rahm — and it ain’t poor black people.  NTA is a Level 1+ (CPS’ Highest School Rating) elementary school, with a majority-black, low-income student population that has made phenomenal gains in student growth and achievement and uses a co-teaching model for full inclusion for students with special needs.   With engaged families and a focus on social justice and growing student leaders, NTA should be held up as a model for successful urban education.  Yet, in arrogant, short-sighted, pandering-to-the-majority-higher-income-white-people-Emanuel-fashion, CPS plans to close NTA in order to use the building to open a 1,000-seat neighborhood High School.  This is a horrible plan for many reasons, the least of which is that there are approximately 3,000 currently-empty high school seats within a 3 mile radius of the South Loop neighborhood.   See the NTA community’s plea to save NTA:  WeAreNTA: The Kids Aren’t Alright – How Chicago Public Schools’ Proposal for a New South Loop High School Hurts Our Children’s Classrooms and Wallets.
See why NTA should remain open.
Please call Rahm Emanuel’s office at 312-744-3300 and ask that he do the right thing and keep NTA Elementary School open.
Please e-mail the following and ask them to support successful urban education and keep NTA Elementary School open:
Forrest Claypool (feclaypool@cps.edu)
Dr. Janice K. Jackson (cedo-jackson@cps.edu)
Chicago Board of Education Members via Kathryn Ellis (kmellis@cps.edu)
Frank M. Clark, President, CPS Board of Education
Jaime Guzman, Vice President, CPS Board of Education
Mark F. Furlong, Member, CPS Board of Education
Dr. Mahalia Hines, Member, CPS Board of Education
Arnaldo Rivera, Member, CPS Board of Education
Gail D. Ward, Member CPS Board of Education
#WeAreNTA

Fire the Liar: An Ode to Forrest Claypool

Run, Forrest, Run (From CPS)!

I know.  Not original, but I’m freakin’ exhausted from dealing with the Lying Liar of  Liartown and his Court.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Forrest Claypool as CEO of Chicago Public Schools in July 2015.  For the past several years, students, teachers, parents and advocates have endured blow after blow as Forrest Claypool and his minions attacked Special Education funding, staffing and services each school year with new and ever more diabolical schemes, procedures and policies that fly in the face of Federal Special Education Law.  Bruised, exhausted and suffering, we stakeholders turned to each other in helpless disbelief, as the picture of what our kids’ educational opportunities should be  (per Federal IDEA Law) turned into a picture of scarcity, powerlessness and desperation, as our kids struggle without adequate supports in a City that places corporate profit over the well-being of its children.

A Professional Hatchet Job

…and then Sarah Karp’s story broke on WBEZ that, under Claypool, CPS paid $14 Million to his accounting consultant cronies to address “inequity” in CPS Special Education.  Their answer to address this inequity was to develop a multi-pronged, layered attack designed to cut Special Education Funding – from toddlers coming out of Early Intervention being denied IEP’s after a clown-show of a ludicrously pared-down assessment process, to busing denials for a High Schooler with an assessed developmenal level of a 5-year-old, to case managers being told to change IEP’s without parental consent because of  the inexplicable denial of additional staff in the completely non-transparent special education staffing appeal process – to name just a few examples of the new policy and procedure consequences. Claypool continues to try to discredit Ms. Karp’s impeccable reporting and insists that the erroneous conclusions reached in CPS’ White Paper entitled:  Closing the Achievement Gap and Improving Outcomes for Students with Disabilities, is the reason why CPS had to “overhaul” how it parses out Special Education services and funding in Chicago Public Schools.

A Load of Flaming Excrement

This White Paper is a load of horse dung and, I assert, was created with the express purpose of providing CPS/Claypool a convenient excuse to bring in a team of funding gatekeepers (a/k/a ODLSS Network Representatives) to carve away at the more costly Special Education services CPS provides to it’s neediest and most vulnerable students.

The CPS Special Ed Funding Gatekeepers

As only a small part of Claypool’s Special Education cost-cutting scheme, CPS now has a team of high-paid, mid-level-management Network Representatives whose jobs are to act as Special Education funding and service gatekeepers.  There are good ones and bad ones.

The good ones:

  • approve appropriate services (as determined by the Student’s IEP Team);
  • approve busing service for any and all students with IEP’s who attend CPS;
  • work with Principals on scheduling of Paraprofessional and SECA staff to ensure coverage of IEP minutes with the most efficient number of staff members within a given school; and
  • approve necessary additional staffing to achieve full coverage of staffing set out in the IEP Minutes of ALL students in a given school, based on each IEP Team’s determination of student need.

The bad ones:

  • override IEP Team decisions;
  • make outrageous conclusions and spout their opinions about students with whom they have no direct knowledge in an effort to justify diminishing, delaying or denying services;
  • insist on “MTSS-type” Special Education interventions prior to approving continued or additional paraprofessional support, even when the child has an IEP and their whole day (per their IEP) is filled with “MTSS-type” interventions that are currently inadequate to meet the child’s needs;
  • use CPS’s truncated criteria to determine the eligibility for ESY (Summer School) and requiring duplicative and burdensome data collection to justify ESY placement;
  • use CPS’s arbitrary and limiting criteria to determine eligibility for busing as a related service in order to justify removal or refusal of busing service from a child’s IEP;
  • exclude parents from the IEP process by holding “pre-IEP meetings” with the school staff and clinician IEP Team members — where the Network Rep. states what services he will and will not approve and tells the school staff and clinicians to write their goals and accommodations within the constraints of what he has approved;
  • hamstring the IEP Team from completing online input of certain staffing and services by blocking the ability to enter such services in the CPS computer system, setting certain default responses to “no,” and requiring Network Representative approval to move forward, causing delay or denial of IEP Team decisions.
  • intimidate Special Education teachers who advocate for their students and make recommendations contrary to the wishes of the Network Representative by reporting their advocacy to the teacher’s Principal and demanding disciplinary action against said teacher.
  • delay approval of services;
  • arbitrarily deny services; and
  • rumor has it, get job perks like new iPhones for keeping the numbers down on private placement, even when such placement is appropriate.

CPS Relies on Stonewalling and Exhausting SpEd Parents

Under Forrest Claypool’s tenure at CPS, getting and keeping Special Education services has become extremely difficult, leading to diminishment, delay and denial of the support our kids need to reach their full potential.  Students who have special needs often have only a very small window of time in which to make the gains that can only be achieved through Special Education.  The achievement gap for students with disabilities is real and low-income parents are often without the resources of time, money and energy to get their children additional help outside of school.  Thoughtful, robust and generous Special Education services can help to make the achievement gap smaller.  Because our students have disabilities, it is impossible to totally eliminate that gap and it is delusional to expect to do so.   For example, in lieu of a medical miracle, A 7th Grader with an intellectual disability who reads at a 2nd Grade level will never, ever, ever be able to achieve a 7th Grade reading level as a 7th Grader.  However, that 7th Grader who has an intellectual disability can make gains and progress to achieve a reading level that may lead to employment and an opportunity to live independently as an adult.  Under Forrest Claypool’s leadership, parents have seen the roll-out of policies that create a hostile climate related to acquiring appropriate services, staffing and funding of Special Education.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Forrest Claypool is a gaslighter extraordinaire.  Month after month, he pounds away at his tired and false talking points, as parents scream into the void of the uncaring, unresponsive and unelected Chicago Board of Education.  He continues to insist that there is racial and gender bias in CPS Special Education identification and that an increase in Special Education costs and services at a time when there is less enrollment indicates a problem with the way Special Education services are approved.

Meanwhile, In The World of Honest People…

Here’s the thing, Forrest, when per pupil funding means there are 45 3rd Graders in a classroom with no classroom assistant or other paraprofessional support, a child with a disability (who may have been able to achieve at an acceptable level in a classroom of 25 students with a teacher and a classroom assistant) is going to need Special Education services.  It is your policies and Student Based Budgeting that are responsible for the increase in students identified for Special Education and, given the number of low-income students who attend Chicago Public Schools, Black and Hispanic boys are actually underidentified!!!!  Our kids do not have the luxury to wait until an Elected Representative School Board makes the education of students who have special needs a priority.

Forrest Claypool must go!

Here are some links related to this blog post, if you have the time or inclination to swim in sewage.  Thanks for reading.

CPS White Paper: Closing the Achievement Gap and Improving Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

CRITICS: CPS SPECIAL ED POLICY IS ‘DELAY AND DENY’ – Katie Drews, BGA, 1/23/17

WBEZ Investigation: CPS Secretly Overhauled Special Education At Students’ Expense, by Sarah Karp, WBEZ, 10/16/17

AUTISTIC TEEN’S DEATH IN CPS POOL HEIGHTENS QUESTIONS OF SPECIAL ED CARE, by Katie Drews, BGA, and Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun-Times, 9/8/2017

Parents protest CPS special education policies before board meeting, by Taylor Hartz, The Chicago Sun-Times, 10/25/2017

CPS Making ‘Major Changes’ to Special Ed Funding, by Matt Masterson, Chicago Tonight/WTTW, 7/20/2017

Critics Say CPS Cutting Special Ed Services to Save Money, Paul Caine, Chicago Tonight/WTTW, 1/24/2017

Public Voices Concerns Over Special Education in Revised CPS Budget, Matt Masterson, Chicago Tonight/WTTW, 11/28/2016

Speakers Question TIF Dollars, Special Ed Funding at CPS Budget Hearings, Matt Masterson, Chicago Tonight/WTTW, 8/18/2016

Aldermen Call For Claypool’s Ouster, Accuse CPS Of Stiffing Special Needs Kids, By Dana Kozlov, CBS Chicago News, 10/24/2017

Chicago Public Schools takes heat over special education spending changes, By Juan Perez Jr., The Chicago Tribune, 12/8/2017

Principal Voices on the Negative Impact of CPS Special Education Policy, By Troy LaRaviere, CPAA, 10/25/2017

Access Living: Chicago Public Schools Budget Analysis: Fiscal Year 2017, By Rodney Estvan, M.Ed., August 2016