HYDE PARK — Parents and teachers found out last week that one of only two special education preschool classrooms on the mid South Side is being eliminated.
Parents, administrators and the local school council found out late Wednesday that CPS would be cutting Bret Harte Elementary's special education preschool class, which fills the gap between when state services end at 3 years old and elementary school for kids with special needs and disabilities.
Parents said they don’t know what they will do because the options are so limited. Beethoven Elementary School is the only other school with a special education preschool class in the network of schools that spans much of the mid South Side.
“It would leave everyone in the area without any coverage,” said Heather La Riviere, whose 3-year-old daughter is in the program. “There are some networks that have six such programs.”
She said transitions are difficult for young kids and especially difficult for kids with special needs.
“For me, it’s the one stable, really good thing Rose has for learning because we don’t understand everything that’s going on for her,” La Riviere said.
She said her daughter has gone from crying every day to opening up socially for the first time with students and teachers and she said she credits teacher Juliette Friel.
“She’s in it for the long haul and very dedicated to the kids,” La Riviere said. “This should be an example of when CPS really works.”
The school is not entirely sure yet why the program, which includes four students and one teacher this year, is being cut.
“This is a wonderful program and cutting it will be a real injustice for south side families,” said Beth Herring, a parent representative on the school’s local school council.
“I am also extremely concerned about the repeated pattern of not including stakeholders in the decision-making process. We see this all the time from CPS, but when you're talking about cutting pre-K programs for our most vulnerable students, it stings even more than usual.”
CPS officials did not respond to two days of repeated calls and emails about the elimination of the program.
La Riviere said she spoke to Sarah Dentz, executive director of pupil personnel services, who told her there were not enough pupils to justify continuing the program.
Dentz could not be reached for comment.
Rose was expected to be the only student in the program next year, which is normally 10 students, because no one has signed their children up for it.
“To me that does not ring true,” La Riviere said. “For me, even among the families I know and I don’t know all that many, I know of at least one or two other children who are interested in going into that classroom next fall."
She said can’t tell whether there is no demand, CPS is diverting potential students or the state social services providers who normally refer families to the programs are not doing so during the state’s ongoing budget crisis.
“It seems to me there is some break in the pipeline, but because it’s not a transparent process I don’t really know where that break is,” La Riviere said.
She said it’s particularly painful to have to consider looking for a new option for Rose, because it was one of the few parts of CPS that was working so well for her family.
“I understand that cuts are in the offing for CPS,” La Riviere said. “But to cut programs that are demonstrably excellent … it just doesn’t make sense.”
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