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CPS: School closure plan includes A/C, prep for special education

SabrinRobertsparent special-educatistudent McClellan Elementary speaks during news conference Tuesday about planned closing schools thserve special-needs students outside CPS Headquarters.

Sabrina Robertson, parent of a special-education student at McClellan Elementary, speaks during a news conference Tuesday about the planned closing of schools that serve special-needs students, outside of CPS Headquarters. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 21, 2013 6:35AM



As the clock ticks against a March 31 school-closing deadline, Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday that every school that receives children from closed buildings will be air-conditioned by the first day of school, and every special-education student who’s displaced will go to a school capable of handling that child’s needs.

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the ex-Marine she put in charge of the transition told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that the cost of moving children from closed schools to new ones and improving the buildings they end up in will be paid for within two years using savings from the closed schools. That includes air conditioning units or central air in every school that receives children — a contentious issue from September’s teachers’ strike.

Planned improvements for schools receiving children from closed buildings also include options for: Tutoring, mentoring, upgraded computer technology and improved buiding security, according to CPS.

“Under any scenario package that we’ve been able to analyze, we’re fully paid back in less than two years,” Tom Tyrell said.

CPS would not release specific figures, Byrd-Bennett said, because she hadn’t finalized her list of schools to close. That list is due by March 31 but expected sooner.

An independent commission Byrd-Bennett tasked with helping her decide recommended that she close, consolidate and academically turn around no more than 80 schools of the 129 that are eligible. And a recent district request for vendors solicited moving and other transitional services for school buildings for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 or 129 schools.

On Tuesday, Byrd-Bennett sent a letter “as a mother and grandmother” to parents of special-education students, telling them that their children will be assigned to new schools that can implement an Individualized Education Program, which describes what each special-education student needs. A special-education subcommittee also will be created to make recommendations, she wrote.

“I also know that transitioning to a new school may be challenging for some students, especially for those with disabilities,” Byrd-Bennett wrote.

Her guarantees to parents include that equipment, supplies and accessibility issues will be settled by the first day of school; “meet and greets” will be planned for special-education teachers and parents to review IEPs, and schools receiving special-education students will be trained “to address the unique needs of all incoming students.”

Earlier Tuesday, parents of CPS special-education students made an impassioned plea to Byrd-Bennett to spare the schools on her list with high populations of special-education students. Of the 129 schools, 39 have special-education cluster programs that serve children with profound and severe disabilities. Three serve special-education students exclusively. The list accounts for more than 6,000 special-education students.

Parents said closing the schools would be detrimental to their children.

Josephine Norwood has been through school closings. She has helped her son, who’s 11, transition through two closures already. The boy, who has autism, is thriving now at McClellan Elementary School, 3527 S. Wallace St.

But another move will be disastrous to the progress he and his classmates have made, she said at a news conference in the lobby of CPS headquarters with parents from elementary schools including Lozano, Trumbull, Lafayette, McNair, Ryder and Smyth.

“They progress through repetition and stability,” Norwood said at a news conference Tuesday organized by Raise Your Hand, a parent group. “If you uproot them again, they will lose a lot of their gain. I’ve seen it personally through the closures he’s been through.”

Raise Your Hand has been fighting the closings and has denounced the CPS formula of calculating how empty or full a building is, saying the district allows for too many children in each classroom. A district official admitted at a recent Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force meeting that CPS didn’t account for small special-ed class sizes in its utilization formula, said Wendy Katten, parent director of Raise Your Hand.

“Chicago Public Schools has traumatized these families,” Katten said.

“Many of these schools are full due to having eight to 15 children in their room, and they are not underutilized,” she said. “We cannot believe this district has shown such callous disregard for the lives of children, our most vulnerable children.”



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