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Lakeview Principals Unite To Fight 'Despicable' Cuts to Special Education

By Ariel Cheung | September 30, 2015 6:44am | Updated on September 30, 2015 8:49am
 Lake View High School students head to their first day of classes Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Lake View High School students head to their first day of classes Tuesday, Sept. 8.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW —  With unprecedented special education cuts on the table, principals are facing a choice: force students into "unethical learning situations" or break the law, one said Tuesday.

A cluster of Chicago Public Schools principals on the North Side banded together with the goal of delaying the appeal process — originally a 24-hour turnaround — and preventing layoffs, one principal said.

"This is scary. It's unethical, but it's not illegal. And CPS knows it," said the principal, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak with the media.

With a legally required number of minutes per student and not enough special education teachers and aides to go around, she said elementary students will be pulled from general education classrooms and grouped with others up to four grade levels apart — the state-mandated maximum.

"There's no possible way the best teacher in the world could teach full, grade-level Common Core curriculum to four grade levels in the same time frame," she said. But she said it seemed like the only way to get each student their allotted minutes of specialized instruction.

Lakeview's eight CPS elementary schools stand to lose seven special education teachers and 11 aides. Lake View High School is set to lose one teacher, but gain four aides.

Some of the schools — Agassiz Elementary and Inter-American Magnet schools — escaped the proposed layoffs, although Agassiz is set to lose $189,826 in "All Means All" special education funding.

More than 100 schools participated in the "All Means All" pilot program this year, which provides money on a per-pupil basis. The majority of schools are allotted special education personnel based on their total minutes of required specialized instruction. It was also the first year schools were held financially accountable for drops in enrollment.

The Friday announcement and two-day appeal process outraged some Lakeview principals, pushing them to unite and speak out against the proposed cuts.

"I'm taking what may be my last stand," James Gray tweeted on Tuesday. The principal of Hamilton Elementary said special education struck a personal note with him, and "we're not going down without a fight."

Gray and Nate Pietrini, principal of Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, pledged to fight the cuts and expressed their frustration with the process over the past four days.

Pietrini tweeted that he has a plan and "will not lose staff in this way."

On Tuesday, Blaine Elementary Principal Troy LaRaviere said the way principals were informed about the cuts was "despicable."

"We were set up to fail intentionally. But the other principals stepped up and organized behind the scenes," LaRaviere said during a Local School Council meeting.

LaRaviere said Blaine was preparing to request another special education aide, the school's tenth, but instead is set to lose three.

LaRaviere — a harsh critic of CPS leaders who is under threat of dismissal for speaking out — wrote about the cuts on his blog Monday. In it, he outlines how CPS rolled out information to the schools and credits other principals for pushing to put the changes on hold.

The principals now have until Nov. 2 to appeal the cuts.

While the unnamed principal said she was thankful CPS listened to the school leaders, she fears what's to come.

"I can't comply with this every day and watch these children not get [sufficient] instruction, and they're the students who need it the most. I sit there and think will I just not meet students' minutes and put myself and my job at risk?" she said.

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