Keep our class-size limits

To justify closing more than 50 schools, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials are claiming that they are "underutilized"--that the schools simply don't have enough students to justify keeping the buildings open. But at the same time, CPS is pressuring the stte to lift class-size limits for special needs students throughout Illinois--forcing the most vulnerable kids into what teachers and others say will be overcrowded conditions.

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Chris Koch has announced that he supports the repeal of both special education class-size limits and a rule limiting the composition of general education classes to 30 percent students with disabilities. The effect, educators say, could be disastrous for students who need individualized instruction.

In this open letter to Superintendent Koch, a group of social workers, nurses and other school professionals explained why oppose such measures.

A crowded elementary school classroom in California

Dear Dr. Koch,

The undersigned social workers, nurses, occupational therapists and speech language pathologist employed with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are writing to protest your proposal to remove the Illinois State Board of Education rules that limit the number of children with disabilities that can be assigned to a single class room based on certain criteria.

As clinicians who serve students with disabilities, we feel your proposal does not accord with our ethical obligation to do no harm, and therefore, we must voice our dissent. Unsurprisingly, your proposal is consistent with CPS's agenda to close authentic public schools and warehouse children in the ones remaining as cheaply as possible.

CPS could potentially close 61 public schools. This is a recipe for impractical transitions, exploding class sizes and chaotic learning conditions for our students with special needs. Your proposal will effectively permit school districts to reduce expenditures by rolling back the rights of its most vulnerable student population.

To be sure, we fully support the maximum possible integration of children receiving special education into the general education environment, as illustrated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Cory H. decision in Illinois. IDEA provides for a continuum of services with variable arrangements across several settings based on student need.

We have observed that CPS rarely provides adequate supports for full integration of children with disabilities, even with legal mandates in place. Weakening protective legislation is plain wrong-headed. When compliance violations occur, typical working-class parents--a single mother with a child who has autism, for instance--are hard-pressed to find the resources to appeal for justice. As we understand it, there are no provisions in your proposal to address this deeply problematic reality.

We are proud that CPS does not turn any student away. Students who use wheelchairs that have space requirements to navigate around desks and classmates, students with behavioral sequelae of post-traumatic stress disorder who may pose a safety risk to themselves or others, students with cognitive impairments who need daily assistance to do basic self-care activities like use the bathroom or eat a meal, students who have chronic and complex medical conditions such as seizure disorder and students with significant learning disabilities who need constant adult support to attend to task and learn new information all belong to the CPS family.

In fact, we recommend that class size limits be honored for the good teaching they allow and extended beyond the scope of special education.

Trading off our students' welfare to cut costs is educational injustice. All children have the right to a free, a public and a quality education that provides them with the tools to become independent, happy, successful adults.

Dr. Koch, we CPS clinicians stand with our parents and community members in demanding that you withdraw your proposal to lift necessary limits on class sizes for children with special needs.

Anita Barraza
Carol Hayse
Saria Lofton
Marilena Marchetti
Carrie L. Nutter
Jennifer O'Connell
Helen Ramirez-Odell
Lourdes Rodriguez
Lamees Talhami
Sheryl Thomas

First published at CPS Chatter.