Mixed messages about deaf program in Chicago spark concern

Sergio Hernandez’s 8-year-old daughter barely spoke before she started attending the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at Salmon P. Chase Elementary School. She is now excelling in school and “can’t stop talking”.

So when Hernandez heard rumors that the program might be shut down, he thought of the challenges his daughter and other hearing-impaired students had to go through as children: doctor’s appointments, multiple surgeries, and job changes. school, including virtual learning over the past two years.

Forcing them into another disruption would be unfair, he said last month at a news conference hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union to urge the district to keep the program open.

But after the press conference, Bogdana Chkoumbova, director of education for Chicago Public Schools, sent an email to Chase’s families calling the program’s closure “misinformation.”

“While there were very preliminary discussions earlier this spring about Chase Elementary’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program and its future, CPS has not closed and has no plans to close or phase out any of the 36 DHH programs in the district,” Chkoumbova wrote. .

The CPS did not respond to questions from Chalkbeat about why the district considered closing the program at Chase. According to teachers and CTU, district officials initially cited transportation issues and later said there was a need elsewhere in the city.

Data obtained by Chalkbeat through an open records request shows that enrollment has remained stable in the district’s deaf and hard of hearing programs throughout the pandemic, although some schools have gained and lost students.

Last year, more than 300 deaf and hard of hearing students were enrolled in CPS, according to district records. Federal law states that school districts must provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities.

An analysis of the data by Chalkbeat found that more than two-thirds of deaf and hard of hearing students attend one of 36 deaf and hard of hearing programs at 11 public schools across the city. Chase Elementary is one of them.

But up to 104 students identified as deaf and hard of hearing attend schools that do not have specialized programs for this population. These students are usually integrated into general education courses and receive support, according to the CPS.

When programs for the deaf and hard of hearing are closed, students may transfer to another school with a program or to their neighborhood school. But that back and forth can be stressful, parents and teachers say. And when there’s a lack of communication and mixed messages, it can cause angst.

Tnaisha Ward, whose son attends Chase, said the 9-year-old fell behind before going to Chase. The program helped him get back on track, stay academically and instilled a sense of confidence in him, she told Chalkbeat.

“How do you tell us that no child is left behind?” Ward at the CTU press conference. “That’s what you do because you don’t communicate with the parents.”

Elba Davila, whose 10-year-old son attends Chase’s deaf and hard of hearing program, said the district needs to realize the importance of stability for children. Parents relied on teachers for information about the future of the program due to a lack of communication from the CPS, which Davila called “maddening”.

This is not the first time that the CPS has been criticized for its management of programs for students with disabilities.

The district’s special education program has been under state surveillance since 2018, when a report found it delayed and denied services to more than 10,000 students with disabilities, in violation of state and federal laws. A state monitor was extended last year and is scheduled to end this fall.

Chase’s program had the fourth highest enrollment in the district in the 2021-2022 school year – approximately 9% of deaf and hard of hearing students in Chicago attended programs at Chase.

The program started seven years ago and has grown steadily ever since. Figures obtained by Chalkbeat show that enrollment in the program has remained stable between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.

Some supporters began to fear Chase’s program was being phased out by halting enrollment of younger students after a sharp drop in enrollment in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at Orozco Academy on the Lower West Side. This program dropped from 15 students in 2017 to less than 10 before it closed in 2020. It is unclear why enrollment dropped at Orozco.

Although CPS officials say the program at Chase will continue, parents and teachers fear it will be phased out.

Colleen McKenna, a deaf and hard of hearing teacher at Chase, has repeatedly asked the CPS to see the data since March, when she first heard the district was considering closing the program. But she never received any information from the district. At the CTU press conference, McKenna said she and other teachers were told by CPS officials that the program would be phased out after the next school year.

She and teacher Nancy Beaucaire said they still hadn’t seen any evidence that children in kindergarten or preschool were enrolled for the upcoming year. The school district would not provide Chalkbeat with grade-level enrollment data, citing privacy concerns.

According to CPS, the Office of Diverse Learner Services and Supports continues to manually enroll students into these programs and students are assigned based on their individual needs as outlined in their IEP, a legal document outlining services for students with disabilities. .

Reem Hamad, whose 5-year-old son Zahir attends the deaf and hard of hearing program at Chase, is still worried and confused about the program’s future.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Hamad said. “If there are no new students coming in, then it’s a waste.”

Eileen Pomeroy is a reporting intern for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Eileen at [email protected]

Michael A. May