CHICAGO — Activists say public pressure prompted the state Board of Education to put off a controversial proposal to end class-size limits on special-education students this week.
Erica Clark of the local grassroots group Parents 4 Teachers said she believed abundant public pressure caused the board to defer action on the issue at its monthly meeting Thursday in downstate Bloomington. She said groups will persist with the pressure to fight off the proposal.
The state first proposed in March to end the special-ed class limits. Special education has had set class sizes since the mid-1970s, and a 1999 court consent decree set a maximum ratio of 70 percent to 30 percent in classes mixing so-called mainstream students with those under an Individual Education Program (IEP).
"These requirements exceed those that are found in the federal Individuals With Disabilities Act," according to records included in the Board of Education agenda this week, and the "unintended consequences" of limiting special-ed students led to a demand for the "least restrictive environment."
Yet the same records acknowledged that the board "received an unprecedented number (5,527) of comments on this," with the "overwhelming majority" opposed to ending the limits.
At the same time, state staffers advised "no changes" in the decision to end the limits.
Yet the comments, mixed with opponents present at Thursday's meeting, led the board to delay action "until at least the October meeting," according to Board of Education spokesman Matthew Vanover.
Activists cheered that delay and said they would fight on to preserve the limits.
State staffers argued removing the limits would grant local districts more "autonomy," but Parents 4 Teachers distributed an email saying, "Autonomy is the new buzz word that's paved the way for huge budget cuts, mass layoffs of school personnel, larger class sizes and the loss of art, music, library and computer classes.
"Lifting the cap on special-ed class sizes is an unconscionable abuse of our most vulnerable students and the educators who teach and care for them," it added. "Keep the calls and emails going."