As the mother of a special needs child living in the city, I often feel like CPS (Chicago Public Schools) is playing roulette with our children’s future. The Russian kind. Either that, or they are trying to drive us all to the suburbs, where they wouldn’t have to pay one extra penny for these kids, who on top of being expensive, tend to have a worse attendance record than a mainstream student.
My middle son, let’s call him Little Pb, is profoundly Deaf. He is four, and he wears a cochlear implant that makes it possible for him to hear and learn spoken language. He also works very hard, by eleven months had a schedule that could rival that of a politician, and hasn’t lost his beautiful smile just yet. But that is about to happen because, as his teacher just learned this morning, CPS has decided, without further explanation, to move the oral-deaf program he attends to another school, quite far from where we live. It will mean that the northeast of Chicago, from downtown to Rogers Park, won’t have an oral-deaf program, and deaf kids will have to attend a school in the west side of the city. On the personal level, that will mean that we won’t be able to drive him to school every morning, and his commute will go from 25 minutes on the road a day to an hour and half. I remind you that we are talking about a four year old. It will also mean that if, as planned, he can be mainstreamed by kindergarten, he will have attended three schools in three years. He will have had to adapt to three sets of school staff, three student bodies, three buildings. All by age 5. It will also mean that I won’t be able to be as involved as I like to be in his school life, as volunteering for one hour would imply an hour in the car.
As sceptic as I was at the beginning about sending him to a system where I don’t have much power, we have been very happy. We got lucky, and he was assigned to a very good school, a school that was turned around in the last few years by a driven principal and an enthusiastic teacher and parent body. We love everyone, from the bus driver and aide, the administration of the school, the teachers… His teacher and teacher assistant are simply fantastic. He has gone from saying words to saying sentences thanks to them. The teacher is expected to move with the program, but even then, it will be a huge change for the kids.
When you buy or rent a house in the city, one of the things you take into account is the school district. And you pay accordingly, both in taxes and house price. But none of that matters when we are talking about special needs kids. They will be assigned to whatever school CPS sees fit, no matter how far from their house, with no input from the parents. And the fact that they are consolidating programs in fewer schools means the kids will have longer commutes, and will be isolated from their communities. Why should these kids have less rights than the rest of the children in this city?
So, CPS, these are the options you leave me with:
1. Move to the suburbs
2. Send my son to a private school where they don’t have the experience to help him thrive
3. Send my son to this new school, which has much worse scores than his current one or the ones in our area, and which is going to mean a long commute for him.
4. Fight as much as I can so his program stays where it is at.
Since I am quite feisty, for now I choose number 4. I shall not pass. I shall fight.
And I take volunteers.
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