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CPS Holds Final Hearing To Close City's Last Special Needs School

By Jamie Nesbitt Golden | January 28, 2016 8:07am
 CPS officials recommended closing the empty school during a Wednesday night meeting.
CPS officials recommended closing the empty school during a Wednesday night meeting.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

DOWNTOWN — Months after relocating students from a Near West Side special needs school that has technically remained open, two Chicago Public School officials recommended its closure to a near-empty room Wednesday night during an inexplicably delayed public hearing at CPS headquarters at 42 W. Madison St.

Moses Montefiore Academy at 1310 S. Ashland Ave. stopped enrolling students at the start of the 2015-2016 school year and has been operating with a skeleton staff to avoid reneging on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's promise to stop school closures.

With Montefiore's closure, there is no longer a therapeutic school available for students with profound emotional and behavioral challenges.

Appearing on behalf of the CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, School Demographics Director James Dispensa and Diverse Learners Deputy Chief Dr. Kate Anderson Foley made the recommendation for Montefiore's closure Wednesday night.

"There's been declining enrollment over the years," said Foley. "Only 26 students were enrolled in 2014-2015 school year." 

Thirty percent were eighth graders who transitioned to high school, 20 percent were reintegrated into their home schools, and the rest who needed more intensive support were sent to other therapeutic day schools.

The lone public representative at Wednesday's hearing, Legal Assistance Foundation attorney Kate Gladson, insisted to Hearing Officer Phillip Bronstein that CPS was in violation of the law.

"According to Illinois law, CPS must create guidelines to determine criteria for closing a school, and it must use those guidelines to determine which school should be closed," said Gladson.

"In the case of Montefiore, CPS got it backwards. Long before it issued guidelines, CPS emptied Montefiore by transferring all of its attending students before the start of the 2015-2016 school year, months before the school action process started."

Approving this measure, Gladson argued, allows CPS to skip the required school action process and undermine the two reasons the law was created — to encourage transparency and community engagement.

Before CPS phased out Montefiore, the school accepted students from the Near North Special Education Center and Kate S. Buckingham Special Education Center in Calumet Heights. Both were casualties of the 2013 school closings, Gladson said.

"The most disappointing part in this improper closure is that this closure disrupted the most vulnerable children, displacing them for the second time in two years."

This is the latest in a series of blows to CPS's special education department. Last week's layoffs eliminated roughly one-third of its central office staff but spared special education teachers.

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