There’s never a dull moment in Chicago Public Schools.
Sex Abuse in CPS
The Chicago Tribune exposé on sex abuse in district schools prompted CPS leaders to create an action plan that features improved background checks, more employee training on reporting abuse and increased supports for victims.
As the plan goes into action, it’s worth remembering inadequate protection against sexual assault in schools is a national problem, possibly made worse by social media. Current board guidelines on maintaining appropriate boundaries between staff and students state, “Staff members shall not accept or initiate connections with students on social media networking sites,” unless a site has been developed strictly for educational use and the principal and parents have approved communication between the teacher and students. Amid all the other steps to be taken, it seems worth asking how well these guidelines are enforced.
State Takes Over Special Education
When it comes to solving challenging problems like these, CEO Janice Jackson has her work cut out for her. The sex abuse story broke hard on the heels of the May announcement that the Illinois State Board of Education will oversee all special education spending and policy changes in the district for the next three years. At the first of five Town Hall forums held across the city, Jackson made headlines when she vowed to “right the sins of the past” when it comes to special education in Chicago.
Here, the district has already take some steps in the right direction. In January, CPS added 65 new positions to support students with disabilities. With the new school budget, CPS is also restoring “position allocations” (actual numbers of staff needed to serve students in special education), rather than offering a lump sum of money from which schools would be expected to pay salaries. This should also help ensure enough special educators, para-professionals and counselors are in place at each school to serve students with disabilities.
GoCPS Still Improving
Chicago Unheard made it to the last of the town halls, held at Back of the Yards College Prep. At this session, parents had many questions about GoCPS, the district’s new enrollment system. Jackson pledged that next year, more help will be available for families whose primary language is not English. Despite initial rollout problems, most of next fall’s incoming freshmen matched with one of their top three high school choices.
Getting into CPS Is Harder the Younger You Are
Meanwhile, many elementary parents looking beyond their neighborhood school are still in the throes of wait lists and second-round matches.
If you think it’s hard to apply for high school or elementary school in Chicago, try preschool. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised universal pre-K for 4-year-olds by 2021, but parents are really struggling to navigate the complicated enrollment process for early education programs. With both district-run and community-based programs available, and no information to be had from elementary schools about the pre-K programs based in their buildings, parents are spending a lot of time on hold with the help desk to get answers.
One development that should help many parents is the shift to full-day pre-K, taking place in September. This should make it easier for working parents to manage drop-off and pick-up.
What’s Next for Graduates?
It’s graduation season, so here at Chicago Unheard we’re looking forward to learning what graduates will be doing after they leave CPS and the numbers of college scholarship dollars they’re earning. This spring, “postsecondary navigators” have been working with high school students to help them finalize their plans for life after high school.
Last year, the class of 2017 earned more than $1 billion in scholarship offers, setting a district record. Later this summer we’ll have an idea of whether the strong upward trajectory in scholarship offers continues with this year’s grads, but it seems likely they will keep the streak going, given that CPS was named an Advanced Placement District of the Year for a second time in 2018—the first-ever district to win the distinction twice.
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