- The Chicago Teachers Union announced Wednesday a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education, seeking an injunction that would prevent U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from requiring new remote learning plans for students with special needs without a waiver authorized by Congress.
- The union claims that a lack of Education Department guidance and waivers from regulatory guidance around individualized education programs, combined with stringent policies from Chicago Public Schools to keep in line with federal requirements, has increased the workload of teachers and case managers, taking away from their ability to instruct and maintain relationships with students and their families.
- Since the district has shifted to remote learning, CTU attorney Thomas Geoghegan said teachers have been asked to review approximately 51,850 IEPs and over 10,000 504 plans. In response to Education Dive's request for comment, CPS said it did not call for teachers or clinicians to rewrite IEPs in its remote learning guidance, but rather for them make accommodations as necessary to continue services and lessons.
The lawsuit, Geoghegan said, was prompted in part by DeVos' waiver request submitted to Congress in April. The waiver requests, which were prompted by the CARES Act, left open areas of concern including IEP review and complaint timelines, reevaluation requirements, and procedural and fiscal maintenance requirements.
At the time, educators voiced concerns the requests were too narrow and didn't provide enough leeway for district and state leaders to continue remote learning while staying within the bounds of IDEA. The lack of clarity and certainty around what was expected from educators for timelines and meetings, some worried, created a situation rife for lawsuits.
Now, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Staci Davis Gates said the Education Department "offered zero direction" in its guidance and left navigating distance learning for special needs students open to states and districts. As a result, union members said teachers have become "paper pushers," in some cases adding 27 additional hours to their teaching calendar for case management as they develop remote learning plans.
In a recent survey by the National Education Association, special education teachers in particular reported an increased workload.
But Chicago Public Schools and the Education Department contend the district's special ed teachers want to cut corners. "This lawsuit against the district is not about helping students — it's about avoiding the necessary steps to ensure our most vulnerable students are supported during this unprecedented crisis," CPS spokesperson Emily Bolton said.
"This is nothing more than political posturing for a headline," the Education Department said in response to the union's claims. "It’s sad to see the union making excuses for why they can’t educate all students instead of figuring out a way to make it happen."
In previous guidance, the department suggested educators continue providing services for students with special needs but didn't specify how, and encouraged districts to work with parents on timeline extensions.