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

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


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

Shhhhh… CPS is Systematically Disinvesting in Kids with Special Needs

In the Good Ole’ Summertime…

To give you some background, every summer CPS professional staff (special education teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, nurses and psychologists) come together to enroll incoming CPS students who have special needs.   Students are identified, assessed and IEP Teams (parents, special ed teacher, gen ed teacher and any appropriate clinicians) meet to write the child’s federally-mandated Individualized Education Plan.  This plan is supposed to be driven by the child’s individual needs, as determined by the individual child’s IEP Team.  This is the plan that guides the child’s school experience and is supposed to be thoughtfully and collaboratively designed by the child’s parents and the team of professionals that make up the IEP Team.

Legal Rights?  We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Legal Rights!

In the past few years, CPS has systematically attempted to undermined special education services through student-based special education “All Means All” budgeting program; making unilateral decisions to “max out” special education student-to-teacher ratios in instructional settings (even where inappropriate); cutting paraprofessional staffing to such an extent that IEP plans could not be followed; and trying to shut down successful instructional special education programs across the City.

Sung to the tune of “Plausible Deniability”:  I’m New At This Job and Have No Special Education Credentials

CPS has a new head of the “Office Of Diverse Learners Supports and Services” (ODLSS)… Patrick Baccellieri, a long-time CPS administrator who does NOT have a degree in special education and has attained this top job at the pay of $178,000-a-year… which happens to be $8,000 more a year than his predecessor (who had a boatload of special ed credentials, not that it mattered much when the budget slashing marching orders were delivered).  Mr. Baccellieri is the head yes man, uh, I mean, honcho of CPS Special Education and he is quietly leading the charge to do this…

Shhhhhhhhh…  ODLSS Won’t Put It In Writing, But Summer Assessment Clinicians Have To Get Approval From Principals and ODLSS Prior to Including The Following in an IEP:  (1) Instructional Placement; (2) Paraprofessional Support; (3) Bus Service.  Oh, And They Better Hurry Up!

I was recently contacted by a CPS Clinician who is elbows-deep in summer assessments for incoming CPS students with special needs, who shared the following about this year’s process:

  • ODLSS is pushing blended placement on preschoolers with special needs by denying the instructional placement recommendations of the Clinicians doing summer assessments unless they have approval from ODLSS and the school Principal!!!  What!!!????  The only people who should have input into the placement decision for a child with an IEP is the IEP Team.  What this means in practical terms is that little preschoolers with inadequate support will flounder, suffer and waste months or even years in a busy blended classroom, unless or until a grown-up intervenes and asks for another IEP meeting.  By that time, instructional placement could become difficult, with instructional classrooms at a premium since so many children will be inappropriately given “blended” placement.  This means upheaval and disruption for our little ones who are already at a disadvantage because of their disabilities.  Remember, these are critical developmental years that could make the difference between  a lifetime of dependence and a full, independent life for our kids.    
  • ODLSS is denying paraprofessional support for students without secondary approval from ODLSS and the school Principal.  Paraprofessional support can mean success or failure for many students with special needs, especially when navigating the general education classroom environment.  Paraprofessionals are at the top of the “If-Only-We-Could-Contract-These-People-Out-So-MRE’s-Campaign-Donors-Can-Make-A-Profit” List for CPS.  Every year CPS brass comes in with a metaphorical machete to slash the paraprofessional budget, to the detriment of the kids in the classroom.  
  • ODLSS is steering (no pun intended) Clinicians away from offering busing services for students with special needs.  If parents and caregivers new to CPS don’t know that their children may have the right to bus service and the IEP team members “in the know” don’t mention it, it doesn’t get included in the IEP and CPS doesn’t have to pay for busing.  
  • ODLSS is instructing CPS Clinicians to complete the testing, assessment reports and IEP meetings within two hours so they can complete three cases per work day.  This time limit on the tasks, paperwork and meetings necessary to establish a new student with special needs within the CPS system is irresponsible and short-sighted.  CPS has hired professionals who need time to properly do their jobs and our children deserve the thoughtful, federally-mandated, individual education plan that meets each child’s needs.

Dear Mr. Baccellieri, please tell me in writing that what I have set out above is untrue and that you are not attempting to balance the budget on the backs of our neediest kids.

Dear Dedicated CPS Clinicians, please tell me if this post makes a difference in what the IEP team is “allowed” to give to our kids at the IEP meeting.

Dear Parents of Little Ones who have special needs,  do your best in the face of an overwhelming transition and fear about your child’s future to connect with an advocate BEFORE your child’s IEP meeting.  There is power in communication.  Much love and all the best to you and your child.