Chicago Parents Worry School Closures Will Impact Special Ed

The list of schools slated for closure in Chicago is due by the end of this month, but many expect it to be published sooner. Now in anticipation of it becoming public, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is putting in extra effort to assure parents, teachers and other stakeholders that the district will keep its commitments of making the transition painless and making sure existing schools are equipped to handle the new arrivals.

Among the chief concerns expressed by parents and teachers was the lack of special education spaces available around to district to take all the qualified students who are expected to be displaced by the closures. Byrd-Bennett said that expanding the accommodations available to special needs students is a priority and reaffirmed the promise that all will have somewhere to go next year where their needs will be met.

She added that the school buildings that will be taking in new students will be refurbished by the start of the next academic year, including getting air conditioners — something that was a worry for those protesting the closures.

Furthermore, the additional expenses of the changes should be covered from the savings of not having to run half-empty and undersubscried schools within two years of the closures.

CPS would not release specific figures, Byrd-Bennett said, because she hadn't finalized her list of schools to close. That list is due by March 31 but expected sooner.

An independent commission Byrd-Bennett tasked with helping her decide recommended that she close, consolidate and academically turn around no more than 80 schools of the 129 that are eligible. And a recent district request for vendors solicited moving and other transitional services for school buildings for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 or 129 schools.

Byrd-Bennett has often said that she relies on her experience as a mother and a grandmother when she makes decisions about CPS, and it was in that role that she sent a letter to the district families with special needs students reiterating that the schools to which their kids will be assigned have the capability of fulfilling each one's Individualized Education Program, a learning plan designed specifically for each student.

She added that the new schools will get all the support from the district they require to absorb the new students and provide them with assistance they need to make the transition a success.

Earlier Tuesday, parents of CPS special-education students made an impassioned plea to Byrd-Bennett to spare the schools on her list with high populations of special-education students. Of the 129 schools, 39 have special-education cluster programs that serve children with profound and severe disabilities. Three serve special-education students exclusively. The list accounts for more than 6,000 special-education students.

Parents said closing the schools would be detrimental to their children.

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