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CPS Announces Special Education Cuts, But Questions Remain

By Heather Cherone | September 28, 2015 7:05pm | Updated on September 29, 2015 8:21am

CHICAGO — More than 70 special education teachers and aides could lose their jobs in schools across the city under an unprecedented round of budget cuts that could save $12 million, Chicago Public Schools officials announced Friday.

Originally, principals were given to the end of the day Monday to appeal the cuts, which sent parents scrambling on social media to figure out if their children's schools would have enough staff to meet the requirements of each student's specialized education plan.

Approximately 160 schools would lose special education teachers, while 184 would lose aides, according to the CPS spreadsheet.

Facing an outcry, that deadline is now Nov. 2, CPS confirmed.

Heather Cherone details the cuts and how principals are reacting:

Hamilton Elementary School Principal James Gray tweeted that "CPS wisely listened to principals today and will hold off on any layoffs" until Nov. 2 after an appeals process.

Gray's previous tweets criticized the cuts and likened them to a bad dream.

Special education services have never before been cut after the school year began, officials said.

A CPS spokeswoman issued a statement saying the school system will ensure that all special education students get the services they need, despite the cuts.

"Because dollars follow students, the adjustments to our Diverse Learner [special education] programs reflect the actual enrollment and needs of our students," spokeswoman Emily Bittner said.

Bittner said individual principals will determine to allocate their special education resources, and she said CPS is now giving principals until Nov. 2 to appeal the cuts, instead of the previous 24-hour appeal deadline.

News of the cuts exploded across social media, with Wendy Katten, the co-founder of parent-advocacy group Raise Your Hand, saying on Facebook that the data didn't make any sense.

"I really think CPS did screw something up with their data," Katten posted on Facebook.

For example, Ravenswood Elementary School — around the corner from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home — would lose two special education teachers and three aides. 

That amounts to one-third of the entire department, a devastating cut, Principal Nate Manaen said on Twitter.

Principal Troy LaRaviere — who was warned in August to stop criticizing CPS — recounted on his blog what he called the "principal uprising" that stopped, at least until November, the cuts to special education services.

"Principals made a firm and powerful request for concessions and CPS relented," LaRaviere wrote.

District officials — facing what they say is a $1 billion deficit — now fund schools based on the number of students enrolled. That program expanded to special education students at some schools this year, cutting $42.3 million from the budget and eliminating 540 positions, most of them aides.

While parents decried the cuts and advocates for special needs students that warned the school system was in jeopardy of violating the complicated web of state and federal requirements that cover special education, district officials said the district had too many teachers on the payroll.

Parents could sue the school district if their children's plans aren't implemented as required.

More cuts to the CPS budget loom on the horizon if state lawmakers do not agree to give CPS an additional $480 million district officials say they need to make ends meet.

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