Schools Told to Stay on Point for Disabled Kids

     CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge slammed Chicago public schools for needlessly delaying a settlement that mandates proper education for children with disabilities, insisting that the parties wrap up nearly two decades of litigation as soon as possible.
     As the Illinois State Board of Education monitors compliance and benchmarks for Chicago schools to meet, the city’s board of education claimed that the reports have left out “better performing schools” that serve fewer black students.
     Representatives for disabled children in Chicago public schools called the argument disturbing since it suggests a new element of racial discrimination in the provision of special education services within the district.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman rejected the schools’ challenge as a distraction and ordered the parties to get back on track.
     The dispute arose from a 1992 class action that accused Chicago public schools and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) of segregating disabled students who were entitled to special education, and providing them with inferior educational programs in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
     A settlement resolved the claims in late 1998, leading the state board to develop complex implementation plans, overseen by a court-appointed monitor.
     After more than a decade of experiments and disagreements, Gettleman said the court anticipates a “successful conclusion” to the litigation by mid-2013.
     Chicago public schools threatened to throw a wrench in that timeline, however, by objecting to the state board’s 10th district-wide findings, released in January 2011.
     The schools argued that, among other things, the findings should be renamed as the 285 schools that board has monitored for many years are not “representative of the district as a whole” because they do not include “better performing schools.”
     They proffered an expert report prepared by David B. Blanchflower in support of these objections.
     “This somewhat radical request is rejected,” Gettleman ruled on July 14, noting that the findings “do not profess to be a report on every school and do not suggest that great progress has not been achieved in many CPS [Chicago public schools].”
     “CPS’s latest objections, portraying it as a victim of a purported decade-long design by ISBE and the Monitor, aided by plaintiffs’ counsel and indeed this court, to cast a negative light on CPS’s efforts to reform its special education programs, are misplaced and unconvincing,” he added.
     Though the schools had said that the state board’s various methods to determine compliance were “subjective and incomprehensible,” they never informed Kathleen Yannias, who has served as the court-appointed settlement monitor for the last eight years. Such notification is required by the settlement before parties can proceed to litigation.
     “This objection thus appears to be another attempt to make a record for some future dispute in this or some hypothetical future litigation,” according to the eight-page ruling.
     Gettleman concluded that Blanchflower’s expert report is simply “irrelevant,” even though the class claimed it raised disturbing implications of racial discrimination and might require further discovery.
     “The court regards this dispute as an immaterial distraction, especially given the current schedule to bring this case to a close, deny any request to take such discovery,” Gettleman wrote.
     “Because of that schedule, it is imperative that the parties work towards completing their assigned tasks by the expiration of the respective settlement agreements governing ISBE and CPS,” he added. “Further posturing, personal attacks on opposing counsel, and needless objections and litigation will not fulfill the intention of the court, the Monitor, and the parties themselves, to bring this case to as successful a conclusion as possible.”
     The judge ordered the state board to proceed with its 11th district-wide findings.

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