Access Living – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Barriers to health care for people with disabilities Wed, 26 Jun 2013 20:30:46 +0000 People with disabilities face an array of obstacles to getting health care, and budget cuts and market-oriented “reform” of Medicaid could be making things worse.

Results from a participatory research study of the health care experiences of Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities will be presented at a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon, with health care consumers and providers commenting on their experiences and possible solutions.

The town hall takes place Thursday, June 27, at 1:30 p.m., at Access Living, 115 West Chicago Avenue.  The study was conducted by Access Living’s health policy team and UIC’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

Relatively simple problems, like access to clinics and exam tables for people who use wheelchairs, can lead to significant gaps in care, said Marilyn Martin, policy analyst at Access Living.

Many are examined in their wheelchairs instead of on exam tables, though that’s not considered an acceptable practice, she said.  As a result, pap smears and prostate exams are often not given to people in wheelchairs.

With mammogram units that aren’t accessible for mobility-impaired patients, many people go years without cancer-detection exams — and mortality rates for breast and cervical cancer are significantly higher for people with physical disabilities, Martin said.

People in wheelchairs are almost never weighed during exams, she said, so potentially significant information on weight gain and loss is unavailable, and prescriptions for medications are written based on guesses about weight.

State laws that mandate “safe lifting” standards for treating wheelchair users in hospitals and nursing homes don’t extend to clinics and doctors’ offices, she said.

People with mental illness report being treated disrespectfully by doctors, and “providers often don’t believe what consumers are telling them or discount it” with the attitude that “it’s all in your head,” said Martin.  “Sometimes this leads to illnesses not being treated.”

Sign language interpreters are often unavailable at hospitals and clinics, Martin said.  One survey participant told of spending a week in a hospital for emergency open-heart surgery with no interpreter until he was being released.

One problem is that the federal government has yet to issue regulations for health care providers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, though it was passed 23 years ago, Martin said.

Now Medicaid is being expanded under the Affordable Care Act, one year after the state cut its budget by over $1 billion.  But the expanded Medicaid will more closely resemble cut-rate private insurance, with increased out-of-pocket charges for consumers.

For people with extensive health issues requiring regular doctors’ appointments and multiple medications — especially those living on the limited income of SSI disability benefits — higher co-pays mean “people are being increasingly forced to choose which of their conditions they can afford to have treated,” Martin said.

Engaging communities and counting classrooms Fri, 08 Mar 2013 01:43:47 +0000 If the “community engagement” hearings recently held by CPS were intended to rebuild broken trust, as Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said, they might be counted as the first failure of a long season.

“Up until a couple weeks ago, I  believed what CPS said about utilization and a budget shortfall, and that they had to close schools,” said parent Beth Herring at a recent meeting of Hyde Park parents and teachers.

Then she went to a community hearing.

“It is not community engagement to invite people to come and beg to keep their schools open,” she said.   “Maybe some schools need to be closed, but there has to be a much more serious process, not just giving people two minutes to literally beg to keep their schools open.”

At a West Side hearing last week, an alderman put it more directly:

“This process is insane,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (29th).  “It pit schools against one another, it pits communities against one another.  This is no way to run a school system.”


This weekend, the Grassroots Education Movement and the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force are offering two alternative forums for school issues.  Perhaps CPS and the school board could learn something about open and respectful communications from them.

Point one might be holding meetings at times when working parents and teachers can attend them — apparently not the goal of school board, which postponed its March 27 meeting because it was during spring break.

On Friday, March 8, 6 p.m., GEM is holding a People’s Board Meeting at the First Unitarian Church, 5650 S. Woodlawn.  Parents and teachers from across the city will be speaking on school closings and other issues that CPS doesn’t address, like smaller class sizes, charter expansions, and an elected school board.

GEM is a community-labor coalition; the meeting is envisioned as the first of an ongoing series.  Elected officials have been invited.

On Saturday, March 9, 10 a.m., CEFTF holds its monthly Second Saturday session at the Humboldt Park Library, 1605 N. Troy, focused on the ten-year facilities master plan, another subject CPS isn’t discussing.  The district is required to produce a draft by May 1.

CEFTF, a task force of the state legislature, is asking schools to report on whether CPS has engaged them in the planning process, and the task force is soliciting the kind of fine-grained information about school use that CPS’s utilization standard completely ignores.


That’s one of the problems at the dozens of community hearings on school closings in recent weeks, where thousands of parents and teachers have turned out and make eloquent and emotional pleas for their schools.

CPS and the people in its schools are using different utilization standards.

Representatives from school after school have challenged the way CPS has rated their building’s utilization.  Often this involves listing classrooms that are used for special programs.

In many cases, principals and LSCs have done a great job bringing in community partners, outside agencies that offer the kind of crucial programming, from art and music enrichment to counseling and everything in between, that CPS has been unable to provide sufficiently to satisfy parents.

In many cases, they also point to CPS’s failure to take into account legal class size limits for special education classes.

One example of many: DNAinfo reports that at a Fuller Park hearing, Dewey Elementary principal Eric Dockery “said CPS labeled his school as 53 percent utilized. But Dockery has his own calculation, one that considers capacity for special education and pre-kindergarten rooms as well as the school’s emphasis on small class sizes and spaces for unique programs.

“Taken together, he said, that puts the school at 85 percent utilized. Dockery said he submitted that information to CPS and ‘hopefully I will hear back.'”

(Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, a member of CEFTF, says she’s heard from several principals who reported utilization discrepancies to CPS and haven’t heard back.  I asked CPS about the protocol for schools to challenge their utilization standards.  I haven’t heard back.)


The schools are actually arguing for a more accurate utilization standard.  While CPS bases its utilization standards purely on building capacity, schools are looking at their utilization based on program capacity.

It turns out that’s what the experts recommend.  It also turns out that using program capacity as a standard, more schools would be fully utilized and fewer seats would be “empty.”

Rather than just adding up classrooms and dividing by the number of students, this involves looking at how classrooms are used.   It’s much closer to what other cities use (we’ve linked to New York’s approach here).

In Seattle they use “functional capacity,” which (as cited by a report from the Broad Foundation, where Byrd-Bennett is a paid consultant) is “determined by a walk of each facility.” That’s something CPS doesn’t do.

“Functional capacity is defined as the target number of students per school based on each school’s particular programs.  This is different from planning capacity, which is a formula designed to identify a high-level average possible enrollment for each building.

“Both numbers are important: planning capacity provides a blueprint that can be used district-wide; functional capacity provides an on-the-ground number that is specific to a particular school at a particular time given the needs of its students.”

A report from BrainSpaces, an international educational design firm based in Chicago, for the Council of Educational Facility Planners International spells out different levels of capacity measurement, ranging from maximum capacity (the number of kids you can cram in a building) to building capacity (which also considers support facilities, from hallways to lunchrooms), to functional capacity (which factors in schedule flexibility) to program capacity, which includes program offerings.

The report recommends that while building capacity should guide district-level planning, school-level decisions should be guided by program capacity.

“Most people think capacity is a mathematical formula,” said Amy Yurko, BrainSpaces founder and chair of the American Institute of Architects’ curriculum design committee.  But when you’re dealing with education, the intangibles are critical, including the role of a school in its neighborhood, she said.  “Formulas are comfortable and safe but they’re not accurate.”

Here’s the thing: as you move from the broader to the finer-grained standards, the numbers change.  If you look at program capacity, your capacity will be smaller — and your utilization rate will be higher — than you get looking at building capacity.

The BrainSpaces report gives illustrative numbers for each type of capacity measure.  They’re not based on an actual school, but they give the idea: a school with a maximum capacity of 400 could have a functional capacity of 300 and a program capacity of 240.  The actual numbers will depend on the needs of students and the programs offered to support them, Yurko said.


So when CPS says schools are underutilized and the schools themselves say they aren’t, they’re both right — they’re just using different standards.  And the schools are using the standard that’s recommended by experts throughout the field for measuring utilization at the school level.

And CPS is using a utilization standard that gives them a larger number of underutilized schools.

As the Tribune reports, CPS is also goosing its underutilization numbers by using an “ideal” class size that is far higher than class sizes outside Chicago, and in fact significantly higher than actual class sizes in Chicago.

You’d almost think the standard was set in order to maximize the number of schools that could be subject to closing.  (And it’s a fairly new standard, as Rod Estvan points out — CPS used to consider any classroom which had teaching and learning going on to be “utilized.”)


That’s what’s so incredibly curious about the final report of the School Utilization Commission, released Wednesday.  It’s headline recommendation — CPS can close 80 schools — is based on building capacity numbers.  But within the report, the commission repeatedly makes the case for using program capacity.

“Regarding the utilization formula, we conclude most importantly that it should never be used exclusively to decide which schools should be shuttered. Rather, it should be used as a starting point to decide where to look further.

“We found that factors such as annex space, students with disabilities and their needs, pre-Kindergarten classrooms, community-based health centers, and Head Start placements were critical to understanding how a school is used, and what its utilization rate should be.

“Most importantly, knowing the details of how a school is used and the needs of its students [is] critical for deciding what action, if any, to take.”


In one regard the CPS utilization formula fails on its own terms, since it’s supposed to reflect how resources flow into a school.  The formula simply ignores class size limits which determine how many special education teachers are allotted to a school.

Disability rights organization Access Living has consistently objected to CPS utilization standards, which “disregard legal limitations on class sizes in rooms designated for disabled children,” according to advocate Rod Estvan.

That shortcoming has several ramifications. It leads principals of neighborhood schools to be reluctant to accept special ed programs which could reduce their utilization rate, Estvan said.  (Another factor in their reluctance is that some of the cost of special ed programs must be borne by school budgets rather than the district.)

In addition, CPS’s policy of assuming the 25 percent allowance of classrooms for “ancillary uses” is sufficient to meet special ed needs creates an incentive to put self-contained classrooms in substandard rooms, he said.  Access Living has found self-contained classrooms placed in windowless basement rooms that are clearly inappropriate, he said.

Ignoring legal requirements also has the effect of reducing utilization rates in schools with larger special education populations.  Not surprisingly, a third of the schools listed as potential targets for closing in January were special ed cluster sites, providing specialized services that attract students from outside the school’s boundaries.  According to Catalyst, half of all schools with cluster programs were on the list.

Margie Wakelin of Equip for Equality told Catalyst that advocates are concerned the school closings could have a disparate impact on students with disabilities.


Asked by Raise Your Hand in January about the how CPS was factoring special ed into utilization rates and decisions about school closings, Byrd Bennett said CPS is “working with principals of underutilized schools to ensure that we understand any unique situations.”

That’s not good enough for Estvan — who points out that CPS already knows where all its special ed programs are located.

“It’s not a matter of ‘working with principals,’ it’s a matter of a fair calculation,” he said.

“CPS needs to do a complete functional survey of every school in order to get a reasonable estimate of utilization,” he said.  “They need to look at the function of each room.”

Estvan sharply criticized the utilization commission for inaccuracies in its interim report over how special ed classrooms are regulated.  The commission seems to have taken it somewhat to heart — and again, seems to agree that building capacity is an insufficient measure and program capacity is required:

“Given the large number of students needing specialized services and the complexity of accommodating every need appropriately, no simple formula will suffice,” according to the commission’s final report.  “Rather, CPS should look closely at each school and the needs of all its students.”


CPS should not be closing schools until it has an accurate measure of their capacity and utilization.  And currently it doesn’t have that.

That would require measuring program capacity, not just building capacity.

That’s one reason the school board should wait before making any decisions about closing schools.  Another is that a draft master plan is due May 1 and a final plan in October, and it makes no sense to make such huge decisions without that in place.

It’s not just for the big picture, either.  There are lots of pieces in motion right now.

Estvan argues that the system for distributing special ed cluster sites, established decades ago, needs to be entirely revamped — along with the system for funding special ed, so the district takes the burden off individual schools.

At the same time, CPS is completely redistributing its preschool programs, and 90 percent of the schools on the closing list were preschool sites, Catalyst has reported.

A complaint recently filed with the Illinois State Board of Education by Health and Disability Advocates charges CPS with failing to meet its legal mandate to evaluate thousands of children with disabilities and provide them special education preschool programs.  CPS has promised to do better — which will add to utilization.

And last week Mayor Emanuel announced he was instituting full-day kindergarten throughout the city.  That will affect utilization in hard-to-predict ways in the 25 percent of CPS schools that have half-day or no kindergarten programs.

According to a CPS teacher who blogs at CPS Chatter, all-day kindergarten at her school means the school will lose four classrooms, likely including the music room and art room, and possible driving class sizes up as high as 38.


If the timing of this decision were being driven by what’s best for the children and the schools — rather than the timing of the next mayoral election — there would be lots of reasons to step back and get things right.

And once again, the utilization commission wants to have it both ways, noting that “a variety of stakeholders — including communities, the CTU, newspapers, parents, families, academics, and others — who argue that CPS should delay closings for a year or more, using the extra time to do more planning and more community engagement.

“In a perfect world, CPS would have a district-wide master plan that included a detailed look at necessary capital investments before it tried to take on school closures, and would indeed take time to plan every detail of a school action.”

It doesn’t explain why that’s not advisable.

It also calls for considering anticipated demographic changes, noting that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning predicts the Chicago area will grow by more than two million people by 2040.

“The utilization formula is a snapshot, and doesn’t account for demographic change over time.  While the majority of schools are in neighborhoods where populations are decreasing, it will be important to look on a block-by-block basis to identify potential changes that might alter the demographics of a school.

“In particular, we encourage CPS to work closely with the CHA and city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development to identify developments or other investments that might overwhelm what is currently a well-utilized school, or move an underutilized school into efficient areas.”

Funny, that kind of intergovernmental consultation is just what’s mandated by the state legislation requiring the facility plan.  And it doesn’t seem like something that can be done in a few weeks.


CPS says it must move in order to more focus classroom resources more effectively.  It’s not clear what that means, however.

It probably means larger class sizes in the low-income communities where the closings are targeted — and where small class sizes are considered particularly valuable.

It could mean two schools with half-time art teachers become one school with a full-time art teacher, but no art room.  The art teacher takes a cart from room to room — art on a cart, it’s called.

“I would think you’d want to have a sink handy if you’re doing art,” said Yurko.  “Or you can dumb down the programming because you don’t have the capacity to teach painting.”



Fuzzy math: the CPS budget crisis

The charter contradiction

Closing schools without a plan Sat, 12 Jan 2013 04:07:52 +0000 With the school utilization commission issuing an interim report – and schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett responding to a parents group’s inquiry about school closings – the task force created last year by the legislature to monitor school facilities policy in Chicago is holding the first of four community hearings on Saturday.

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force hearing takes place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 12 at the New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington.

While it’s likely to provide a forum for wide-ranging community concerns about CPS school closing plans, the hearing is focused on gathering public input for the draft ten-year facilities master plan that’s due May 1.

As mandated by the legislature, that process is supposed to include input from every school in the district on its long-term educational vision and facility needs.  But CPS has yet to unveil any plans to engage school communities in the process, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, chair of CEFTF’s master planning committee.

That could be because CPS is focused on announcing a huge wave of school closings – before a long-term plan is done.

Community members “have told the task force that doing more school closings and drastic interventions before there’s a long-range plan in place is ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and just doesn’t make sense,” Carroll said.


In its interim report, the school utilization commission appointed by Byrd-Bennett in December calls on CPS to spare high-scoring and improving schools with low enrollments.  And in order to reduce the risk of violent incidents, it calls for no closings of high schools.

Whether CPS would get around this by phasing out high schools rather than closing them outright remains to be seen.  Phaseouts greatly diminish the experience of remaining students, according to recent testimony from students at Dyett High School, and new students would still be required to travel to unfamiliar neighborhoods.

The commission promises to look further into a range of issues: whether CPS is appropriately accounting for “ancillary” uses of classrooms; whether annexes could be closed in order to bring utilization rates up; how CPS plans to dispose of vacant property; and even whether CPS is accurately counting the number of rooms in its buildings.

The commission will meet with eight CPS community action councils.  And responding to the commission’s request, CPS has announced it will hold two dozen community meetings to discuss specific schools threatened with closing.

The report endorses the rationale for closing schools, which many critics have challenged, and even seems to high-ball the estimate for savings from closing schools.  According to the commission’s report, a Pew Trusts analysis found “districts usually realize less than $1 million in annual savings for each closed school in the short term.”

In fact the report says that average annual savings are “well under $1 million,” and gives figures for four districts, none of which comes close to $1 million.

CPS has publicly said it expects annual savings of $500,000 to $800,000 for each closed school.  But in a planning document disclosed by the Chicago Tribune last month, CPS gave a much lower range — $140,000 to $675,00 per school annually, including capital and operating costs.   That’s if it succeeds in selling nearly half those buildings, a goal which the Pew report suggests is impractical.

Meanwhile costs associated with closings for transition costs – severance pay, transportation, security – are estimated at $155 million to $450 million, enough to wipe out most and possibly all of ten years of savings from closing 100 schools.

In other stories CPS has projected saving as much as $2.5 billion by avoiding deferred maintenance on old buildings, but that’s a little hard to credit when the district also plans to open 100 new schools.

So perhaps a hard, realistic look at CPS’s projected savings – rather than a vague wave at a national study – is called for.


The commission rejects concerns from Raise Your Hand and other parent groups over how CPS measures school utilization.

The report seems to reflect some confusion over classroom sizes for special education students, suggesting that the limit of 13 students per room applies only to 14 schools that are fully dedicated to special education.  The commission does not seem to understand the difference between resource classrooms used for pull-out sessions and self-contained classrooms used for full instructional programs for students with disabilities within neighborhood schools, Rod Estvan of Access Living has commented.

According to the report, the upcoming phase of the commission’s inquiry will ask, “Does CPS have sufficient capacity to close multiple schools in one year safely and efficiently?”

That’s a question the Sun Times has asked, noting that “even under the best of circumstances, CPS rarely pull off a complex task well.”  The concern is underscored by a recent exchange between Raise Your Hand and Byrd-Bennett.

Raise Your Hand asks about its contention that the district’s utilization formula exaggerates the number of “empty seats,” and whether CPS is considering adjusting it.  Byrd-Bennett says no; the number of “empty seats” is based on “ideal capacity” of 30 kids per room, not the upper limit of efficient utilization.

Asked about special ed and bilingual students, Byrd-Bennett seems to implicitly acknowledge that the one-size-fits-all standard for non-homeroom uses penalizes schools with larger populations of special needs students.  She says CPS is “willing to work with the principals of underutilized schools to ensure that we understand any unique situations.”


Finally, asked when she will “provide an analysis of the specific impact of last year’s 17 school actions on the 7,700 effected students,” Byrd-Bennett replies, “we are only halfway through the school year, and a true picture of these schools won’t be complete until the end of the school year.”

For months CEFTF has been requesting information on how transitions were planned and implemented for schools that were closed and subjected to other actions.  In August, according to task force records, CPS was unable to even identify which staff had led transition planning.  CPS has also been unable to identify which schools students ended up attending.

The new facilities law requires CPS to identify and commit specific resources for the first full year of transition to support the academic, social and emotional needs of students.  But for hundreds of homeless students impacted by the closings, support services that should have been provided for the entire year were available one day a week for the first few weeks of the school year.

And that effort seems to have been focused on making sure students’ records made their way to their new schools.

By law, parents were supposed to have to opportunity to visit receiving schools and alternatives.  How many did?  CPS can’t say.

CEFTF wants a full evaluation of what planning was done, how parents were informed of their options, what support was given students and where they ended up.  CPS has been unable to provide this.

Byrd-Bennett is content to wait until the end of the year, when test scores are available, to get an idea of how 7,700 student have fared. In the meantime, she wants to put 35,000 students through school closings, hoping for the best.

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Contract talks should include classroom issues, parents say Fri, 15 Jun 2012 03:23:20 +0000 A parent group is calling on Mayor Emanuel to expand negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union to include class size and other issues which CPS has so far refused to consider.

A new petition by Raise Your Hand (available here) calls on the city “to open up talks beyond pay and benefits and find ways to compromise with our teachers on issues that are critical to our schools.”

“We believe that the only way to come to a decent contract and avoid a strike is to give the teachers a contractual voice in some of the work-rules that impact their day and profession,” said RYH in a recent statement.

In negotiations under way since last November, CPS has refused to consider issues it is not legally required to negotiate, including subcontracting, layoff procedures, class size, staffing and assignment, and —  with passage of SB7 last year – the length of the school day and year.

It’s the first time CPS has ruled those issues off the table.

CPS’s refusal to negotiate on non-economic issues is a big reason teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, said teacher and union activist Xian Barrett.  “We would never have gotten a 98 percent ‘yes’ vote if it had only been about pay and benefits,” he said.

“If you ask teachers what how they would improve their jobs, they don’t start with better pay, they start with class size, they start with wanting an administration and leadership that works with teachers instead of dictating to them,” Barrett said.

The union has offered proposals on class size; on including art, music, languages, and gym in the longer school day; and on increased social services for at-risk students, an area in which Chicago lags other cities.

Those are the same issues parent groups have articulated about the longer school day – and a big reason Chicagoans overwhelmingly back the union’s plan for the longer day over the mayor’s, according to a recent Chicago Tribune poll.

Parents and teachers are particularly concerned that without a plan for funding the longer day, it will be paid for with larger class sizes.

By allowing CPS to rule out key areas – and encouraging CTU to make a large salary demand as its only leverage for pressing nonsalary issues – SB7 set up the dynamic behind the current stalemate, said Rod Estvan of Access Living at an RYH forum in Logan Square on Monday.  Under sections of the law which apply only to Chicago, mediators now evaluating the two sides’ proposals are restricted to topics deemed acceptable by CPS, he said.

The way to avert a strike, to provide room for compromise, is by opening talks to include the full range of issues, Estvan said.

State settles on nursing home alternatives Thu, 22 Dec 2011 21:38:52 +0000 The settlement Tuesday of the third of three lawsuits charging that Illinois violated the rights of people with disabilities by forcing them into nursing homes is a big step, especially given the state’s resistance on the issue over much of the past decade.  But much remains to be done, said a disability rights advocate.

The agreement to establish a $10 million fund to help nursing home residents get their own housing is “a big breakthrough,” said Tom Wilson of Access Living, one of the groups that sued the state.

The groups charged that the state violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision which found that state policies which force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes violate their civil rights.

In addition to pressure from the lawsuits, “we finally have a governor who gets this,” Wilson said.  Former Governor Rod Blagojevich was the target of protests when he cut funding for community-based programs and reopened a state institution.

Moving forward, the state needs to develop a system to help people who’ve been hospitalized transition to their own homes, Wilson said.

Patients can lose their homes during long-term hospitalizations, and patients who are discharged to nursing homes for short-term physical rehab can lose their financial independence, he said.

Other states have protections against nursing homes forcing residents to sign over their Social Security or SSI checks, Wilson said.

Illinois has the highest reliance on nursing homes for long-term care – and the least support for small integrated settings — of any state in the nation.  Nursing home care is much more expensive than community-based care – but the nursing home industry is a major contributor to campaign funds.

Illinois also needs to join other states that are phasing out state-run institutions, Wilson said.  “That model is flawed,” Wilson said.  “It’s very paternatlistic.  It doesn’t liberate people.”

Since 1998, Access Living’s deinstutionalization program has helped hundreds of people move out of nursing homes.  (In a new article — it’s part four of a series on Disability in Chicago for the Chicago Community Trust’s Local Reporting Initiative — the Neighborhood Writing Alliance tells the story of one man who Access Living recently helped move into his own home.)

Related Newstips:

Life outside the nursing home (on Access Living’s deinstitutionalization program)

Olmstead at Ten: State still favors costly nursing homes

ADAPT to target Blagojevich

A convention for Chicago’s grassroots Wed, 15 Dec 2010 22:19:23 +0000 It had the look and the excitement of a political convention, and indeed it was:  a convention of Chicago’s grassroots.

Markers identified sections for delegations from dozens of community groups, and most sections were filled with people wearing brightly colored, matching t-shirts—blue for Action Now in the back corner, Maroon for KOCO in the front, yellow for Lakeview Action Council, orange for Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  Green for Albany Park, orange for Brighton Park.  On one side was a group of young people from Woodlawn, near a section of people, many in wheelchairs, from Access Living.

At the beginning of the New Chicago 2011 mayoral forum, held Tuesday evening at the UIC Forum, members took turns calling out their organizations from the podium, and in turn each section erupted in cheers.

It’s likely to be the largest crowd for a mayoral forum all season – well over 2,000 people — but for some reason, you won’t hear much about it in the city’s mainstream media. (So far Mike Flannery at Fox News Chicago seems to be the only exception, though his report manages to focus on a candidate who wasn’t there; Progress Illinois has some video clips.)


Miguel del Valle drew the sharpest distinctions with the pundit’s putative frontrunner Rahm Emanuel — who had declined an invitation and was tied up at a hearing on his residency anyway — and Patricia Watkins emerged as a serious candidate with several specific proposals.

Carol Moseley Braun and Danny Davis stressed their experience with the groups’ issues; for Davis it stretched from his role as the original sponsor of living wage legislation in the City Council long ago to current sponsor of the DREAM Act in Congress.  James Meeks stressed TIF reform and his work for equitable school funding — but didn’t mention the call for vouchers at the heart of the educational program he released Wednesday morning.

Gery Chico drew boos when was asked about food deserts and started talking about Walmart.  He and Meeks left early.

In his opening statement, Del Valle drew the clearest line between his campaign and Emanuel’s, telling the audience, “You understand the need for a neighborhood agenda, not a downtown agenda, not a big business agenda, but a neighborhood agenda.”

When the candidates were asked about immigration reform, Del Valle drew the most sustained applause of the evening, attacking Emanuel as “the one individual most responsible for blocking immigration reform, as a congressman, as chief of staff,” continuing to a passionate crescendo over the rising cheers of the crowd: “How can we expect him to protect the residents of this city’s neighborhoods?”

He also made a clearest distinction with Emanuel’s program for schools: “We can’t continue to set up parallel systems of education, on one track selective enrollment, magnets and charters, on the other track neighborhood schools. It’s time to strengthen neighborhood schools.”

Watkins opened by referencing her background of community organizing, shared with the audience:  “I have marched with you for immigration reform, for criminal justice reform… We have done more as organizers than any politician that you know.”

She called for a program of social investment bonds to encourage “venture philanthropists” to tackle social problems and for a city effort to develop railroad industry jobs.  On immigration she demanded that “ICE stop trolling in Cook County Jail, because we have to keep our families together.”

The candidates were asked about youth issues, immigration, schools, the living wage, and an ordinance devoting TIF funds to affordable housing.

Asked about schools (and school closings specifically), Braun mentioned her sponsorship of school reform legislation that created local school councils, said no closings should happen without community input, and attacked Chico for his record as Board of Education president in the early days of mayoral control.

Chico gave a spirited defense, saying schools were on an upswing when he left his post, and “we built 65 new schools – we didn’t close schools, we built schools.”

Like Davis, Watkins backed an elected school board and an educator to head CPS. “Decisions are being made for us and we are not at the table,” she said.

Her position on school closings and “turnarounds” – “no school needs to close; we can turn around our schools from within” – seemed to contrast with her previous work with groups that turn around schools from outside.  (More here.)


It was the neighborhood activists who introduced the various issues who gave the most moving talks:  Jessie Belton of Southwest Youth Collaborative talked about a neighborhood youth who was attacked on the street after being turned away from a youth center that was closed.  Cindy Agustin, a University of Chicago senior whose family moved to Back of the Yards when she was three, talked about the impact of her undocumented status on her dream of teaching elementary school.

West Sider Takaya Nelson, representing Action Now, said that growing up, “I never though college was an option,” and now — as a CPS teacher recruited and trained through the Grow Your Own program — she encourages children to expand their ambitions.

Cira Isidiro, from Illinois Hunger Coalition, described her heartbreak explaining to her daughter why there isn’t enough to eat in the refrigerator, and Debra Geirin, a resident and activist with Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, talked about the joy of getting their own place after she and her husband had to live with her mother and her sister’s family for five years.  “A lot of families are doubling and tripling up because there is not enough affordable housing,” she said.

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School closings 3 Tue, 19 Feb 2008 23:33:14 +0000

It turns out CPS isn’t closing Andersen School — it’ s just changing boundaries.

In a January 24 press release, CPS listed Andersen among “under-enrolled” schools to be closed and phased out.  A January 23 report to the Board of Education (available at the Catalyst blog) listed Andersen utilization at 47 percent, just below the 50 percent mark it defined as under-enrolled.  That was the figure Arne Duncan cited in a letter to Andersen parents.

Andersen parents, teachers, and supporters argued that rate didn’t take into account legal limits on class size for the school’s several programs for special education.  They said that applying those limits put the school at 58 percent utilization.

At a February 15 hearing CPS sidestepped this issue — and its guidelines on school closing policy — by announcing it was phasing out the school as a boundary change.

That changes the standard that must be met, said Rod Estvan of Access Living.  Rather than showing underutilization, CPS can change boundaries simply to “maximize utilization” at one of two buildings.

Estvan testified Friday that adding in an autism program and pull-out rooms, “a rational approach to space utilization that takes into consideration State Law would give Andersen School a utilization rate somewhere around 65 to 68%.”  That’s right in the middle of the range CPS terms “efficient utilization.”

Estvan noted that students with disabilities at Andersen tested 15 percent higher than the CPS average in reading and nearly 20 percent higher in math.

“On the face of this data Access Living believes that Andersen School should in fact be given some type of achievement award for the effective reading and math instruction the school appears to be providing to students with disabilities, instead of being closed,” he said.

“It’s pretty slick,” Estvan commented today.  “If they can use this standard, they can write schools out of existence all over the place.”

Disability Culture Cabaret Tue, 04 Dec 2007 06:00:00 +0000 A disability culture cabaret, featuring exhibits, talks and readings by local artists including actor-director Mike Nussbaum, takes place this Friday at Access Living.

Titled “Contagious,” the cabaret launches a new arts and culture program by Access Living which is aimed raising the visibility of an emerging disability culture, said Gary Arnold.

Following a reception at 6 p.m., three visual artists will give talks presenting their work; after that, the Contagious Theatre Revue will present local writers (including Arnold and Mike Ervin) and theater artists reading their work and the work of others.

Nussbaum will join Michael Martin to read from “Shoot” by Lynn Manning, a poet and playwright (and Blind Judo champion) who was blinded when he was shot in a bar fight at age 23.

With an extensive career in theater and film featuring a long association with playwright David Mamet, Nussbaum is also the father of playwright-director Susan Nussbaum, whose work has treated disability issues for many years. Susan also works at Access Living, and she’ll emcee the revue.

The new Access Living Disability Culture Project includes a permanent collection of visual art from artists who have disabilities or who address disability and an archive of multimedia materials and texts, and plans educational programs, rotating exhibits, and public events including readings and film showings.

Contagious: A Disability Culture Cabaret takes place Friday, December 7, 6 to 9 p.m., at Access Living, 115 W. Chicago.