What the new settlement will bring

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Special education staff will get the same opportunities general education teachers have had to participate in schoolwide planning, such as curriculum development. Conversely, general education teachers will help write the IEPs of disabled students in their classrooms.

A new form for the Individual Education Plan (IEP) calls for specifics rather than generalities, including a description of what children are supposed to learn by the end of the school year.

“Before, if the goal was improving reading, that would be the goal year after year,” says Yvonne Williams, head of special education for the Chicago public schools. “But how would you know when you had gotten there? And what would that mean?”

Williams says the new form is “parent friendly” and goes beyond what is required by law for parent involvement. “We’ve added an optional questionnaire, for instance, so parents can come to the IEP meeting with their own report.”

As a supplement to student report cards, parents will receive notices of each student’s progress in meeting his or her IEP objectives.

“I’m still waiting to see a report card that reflects my daughter’s IEP, and I think that’s imperative,” says Pat Villanova, who has two special education children in the system. “That’s when I’ll be in a better position to say whether or not the system is moving in the right direction.”

Schools will receive IEP workbooks. The workbook addresses the roles of both regular and special education teachers in determining the least restrictive environment for each child, in developing individualized education plans and in modifying curriculum and instruction as required.

Every teacher will receive a booklet of suggestions for developing an integrated curriculum, lessons and materials so that both general and special education students are taught to the same standards.

For the first time, each school report card will include information about its children with disabilities, including the number and how they are served.

Principals will be required by April 1 each year to report to their local school councils on efforts to educate children in the least restrictive environment and on the degree of their success. They also must offer suggestions for improvement.

The CPS is developing an electronic database for managing the provision of special services, which also will help special education administrators ensure that children get the services outlined in their IEPs.

For example, a physical therapist would enter the amount of time he or she spent with a child, which then could be checked against the amount of time required by the IEP.

“The day is over in Chicago when people are going to put down any number on a report and say the minutes are there,” believes Rod Estvan, a longtime critic of special education in Chicago. Formerly with Access Living, Estvan is now assisting the judge named to monitor implementation of Chicago’s special education plan.

Estvan adds that under the terms of the settlement agreement, all whistle-blowers are protected from retribution by administrators at local schools. Speaking to parents at a May informational meeting, Estvan said, “I have been a critic of the system for years, and I assure you that [the CPS investigation office] does not broadcast names. It is very serious about these things, and I think we should take it seriously too.”