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Special needs students shouldn’t become second class Americans during a pandemic

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Chicago Public Schools have a long history of neglecting children with special needs. It has taken years of activism, judges’ verdicts, and independent guard surveillance to force progress on this front.

The district must now not fall behind, even during a pandemic. Children with special needs deserve access to an education that is of the quality of any other child.

We support a CPS policy requiring teachers and clinicians to revise their special education curriculum to incorporate distance learning at home. For all its limitations, distance learning is currently the “new normal” in Chicago and across the country, and is likely to continue in some ways into the fall.

Contrary to what the Chicago Teachers Union alleges in a lawsuit filed this week against the CPS policy, there is no need for a “wholesale remodeling” of individual education plans. CPS only requires, in the words of one spokesman, that “basic precautions” be taken to “help students adapt to distance learning.”

This is not “impossible to accomplish,” as the CTU lawsuit claims, if the union and school management decide to work together.

We rarely agree with Education Minister Betsy DeVos on this issue. She rightly declined to forego federal regulations forcing school districts to rewrite students’ IEPs if necessary. A pandemic is a challenge and not a reason to let educators off the hook when it comes to providing equal services to children with special needs.

We know that distance learning can be particularly challenging for students with disabilities. At school they often need help from helpers and clinicians. These services can be difficult to copy when the children are studying from home.

But children with disabilities don’t become second-class Americans in difficult times.

“What students with disabilities need is solid support while they and their families balance the challenges of distance learning at home,” said Chris Yun of Access Living advocacy group. “It is unfortunate to see the CPS and CTU arguing over critical services for these students in these unprecedented times.”

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