CPS says it’s not closing deaf program, contrary to union claim

Chicago Public Schools said there were some very preliminary discussions earlier this spring about possibly closing the deaf and hard of hearing programming at Chase Elementary School, but now there are no plans to close or phase out this instruction. The comments came as the Chicago Teachers Union rallied Thursday morning to preserve these classrooms.

“Chicago Public Schools is planning to close this program through the means of phasing it out. We’re hearing very confusing and conflicting information about that right now,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a news conference outside Chase.

“Last night at 10 o’clock, the union got a phone call from the head of Chicago Public Schools labor relations, to say, ‘No, no, it’s not true that we’re closing the program. We’re just not accepting new students into the program.’ That is closing the program.”

CPS said there are 36 programs that serve deaf and hard of hearing students districtwide, including four at Chase. Teacher Colleen McKenna said the 29 Chase students are either in one of four dedicated classrooms or “fully integrated” into the general education classrooms at the Palmer Square school.

Chase’s deaf and hard of hearing programming — which serves primary, intermediate and upper-level students — began in 2015. CPS said the programs are funded through its central office.

The claim that Chase’s deaf and hard of hearing programming was in jeopardy was raised at last month’s Chicago Board of Education meeting. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said he would research the issue and get back to the board.

A CPS representative said in a statement that officials with the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services reached out to Chase Elementary School on May 25, the day of the board meeting, and “assured the school’s administration that the (deaf and hard of hearing) program is not in danger of closing. That message has been reiterated in recent days.”

CTU said it initially heard the programming was on the chopping block because of difficulties transporting the students and needs elsewhere in the city. CPS has been experiencing transportation woes for most of the school year because of a nationwide shortage of bus drivers.

In its statement, CPS said: “The district has not closed and is not planning to close any (deaf and hard of hearing) program. CPS is investing $68 million more in funding to advance equity and meet the needs of diverse learners across the district in the proposed FY2023 budget. This includes $62 million more for teacher and paraprofessional positions and $6 million more for additional case manager positions.”

CTU said in a statement Thursday that registration at Chase for new deaf and hard of hearing students closed this spring and has not reopened. CPS said in a statement that its Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services has been manually enrolling students for these programs across the district. A CPS spokesperson could not immediately say Thursday how many new deaf and hard of hearing students have registered at Chase for the coming school year.

Parent Tanisha Ward said if any cuts were to happen, it would be heartbreaking.

“This school, this staff have developed our children in more than one way,” Ward said. “My son came from a regular school that didn’t support his hearing loss, so he fell behind tremendously. He came (to) Chase, and they got him on level.”

tswartz@tribpub.com

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