New CPS CEO says he will address staff shortages and transportation issues for students with disabilities

CHICAGO – While he was getting used to his new job, Chicago’s headmaster met with parents of students with disabilities Thursday to assure them he would speak up Shortage of staff and access to services and transportation.

Pedro Martinez, who has been CEO for three months, spoke to parents at the family council meeting of the Office of Diverse Learners Support and Services. He shared that his two children had struggled with the language and had 504 plans, which signals that he understands parents’ difficulties navigating the educational system and wants to support them.

Martinez inherited a district that has marginalized students with disabilities for years. Before the pandemic, a report noted that the district systematically delayed or denied services to students with disabilities from 2016 to 2018. The report resulted in the state ministry of education installing a monitor in the district. When schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Students with disabilities renounced distance learning and services for months. Once students had access to distance learning and services, it was difficult to keep them going.

ONE Chalkbeat investigation in August showed that there is a backlog of Individualized Education Programs, a legally binding document that outlines the services a student with a disability needs. In the 2019-2020 school year, more than 10,050 re-assessments, initial assessments and annual reviews were incomplete. Although there were improvements in the 2020-2021 school year, IEPs are still a problem for parents and students.

Even halfway through the current school year, students with disabilities still have difficulties get a reliable transport due to a national bus driver shortage. Special education assistants were withdrawn from the classrooms to replace missing substitute teachers and had to supervise the canteens due to lack of staff.

Chicago public schools shared data this week This shows that the number of special needs workers has increased from 11,600 to 12,300 since the beginning of the year, but educators, parents and teachers union officials have warned of worsening staff shortages as the city sees a surge in COVID-19 cases and educators struggle with it Burn out.

Martinez answered several questions asked by parents prior to the meeting.

One parent asked how he would involve students with disabilities across the district. Martinez responded that he wanted to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the same grade-level content as their classmates.

When asked how the district will invest in special education, Martinez said its top priorities are making sure that services in individualized education programs are met and respond to student needs after being away from home last year . He also wants to invest in summer programs and staff.

Another parent asked if there were any issues within the county that Martinez sees that need to be addressed immediately.

“We are still struggling to provide transportation for all of our different learners,” said Martinez. “We frankly still have recruiting challenges, and we still have challenges with vacancies and different schools.”

Another question related to the need for awareness training for educators and staff to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Martinez said the special education department plans to invest more resources in training educators and staff, but there needs to be more.

Later that evening, Martinez asked for mercy when he learned the history of special education in Chicago, saying that parents’ concerns were similar to those across the country and in major counties.

“My goal, and I know the goal of my team, is to make sure that we are a good partner to you for listening and trying to understand the challenges,” said Martinez. “I would ask you to give us a chance to make sure we approach problems in a systemic way.”

After that, some parents said on social media that they were upset with how the meeting went because zoom chat was disabled and Martinez only answered questions written before the interview.

Chalkbeat is a non-profit news site dedicated to educational change in public schools.

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