Yesterday was the end of a 3-month battle to get G into a therapeutic school within the Chicago Public School system. Initially, right after J’s death, I had to gather a panel of experts who could come in to my IEP meeting and make sure that G got the appropriate amount of services through the school system. Chicago in general is known for corruption, but its system continues to come under fire for favoritism in its magnet school selection, top heavy salaries for management, general incompetence and improper teacher training and worse yet, complete chaos in neighborhoods where children are so at risk, the school system is at a loss to cope with the dysfunction presented to them daily. But I digress.
Our IEP meeting went wonderfully. Our case manager was on board with our desire to have G sent to a therapeutic school; our panel backed that up by articulating Gs specific needs. It’s incredible to watch his strengths grow, but it’s also a crucial juncture for G to transition from pre-school into a much larger and more academically focused environment, while still having his social emotional needs met.
The document from the IEP was submitted electronically to the school system at the end of February and no sooner did I receive a placement: to a school miles away, with one of the largest elementary populations in the school system (1260 kids in K-6) and a 90% Hispanic population. I’m very happy to have G at a smaller, integrated school, but one so large and with many students coming from Spanish speaking homes, I was immediately concerned that his speech delay would be further enhanced and his social emotional needs might be overwhelmed. His placement was in an autism room – one I didn’t know how well resourced it would be. The last blended room G had at Chicago Public Schools, there were 25 kids between 3 and 6 years old; very few had English as a first language, requiring special assistance to get them up to speed; 6 had special needs and there were 2 teachers and a para-professional for the entire room. Many a time, the teachers would approach myself and J to talk about how overwhelmed they were. I could see the same scenario happening at this new school.
So I got myself ready for a legal battle and engaged counsel. I started to go through the motions of documenting what would not work with the placement G was assigned. I was continually fobbed off by the Office of Special Education and their autism coordinator: phone calls weren’t returned, questions remained unanswered.
When I called yesterday to “check-in” again with the autism coordinator, I caught her off guard. She told me she wasn’t responsible for placement. But this was a lie that I also caught her in.
After spending more time finding out about who the placement officer was for autism classrooms, I contacted the therapeutic school and spoke with the principal. She was the one that informed me of the lie – when we got off the phone, the principal called the Office of Special Education and reamed them. But even that wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t until the principal informed the Office of Special Education that I work within the media that the placement suddenly was changed.
Friends, we did get our therapeutic school placement, but there’s a lot of dirty tricks going on at Chicago Public Schools that everyone should know about.
Between myself and the principal, we deduced since therapeutic education is far more expensive than autism rooms in neighborhood schools, Chicago Public Schools might be trying to stifle enrollment. And indeed – the principal told me, out of a vast population of children requiring special education in Chicago, only one student had been referred to the school for the coming year.
If there are any parents in Chicago who want further advice on how to negotiate the special education system or to relate their complicated, weary stories, please don’t hesitate to tell me. As a member of the media, I’m very happy to try and get these stories placed. As a new widow with a family in crisis, I shouldn’t have to sue a school system to get appropriate education for my child. I should have access to review instead of being given vague answers and ultimatums. And you should too.