No place in line

Sarah Karp | Catalyst Chicago

CPS saves money by keeping down the number of more severely disabled students placed in private therapeutic schools, which are designed to provide optimal support. But the decline in placements raises two questions: Are these students getting the services they need? And is CPS adequately monitoring the private schools on its preferred list?

After her son, Darion, was attacked by Fenger High School football players who accused him of stealing flip flops, Patricia Jones decided that he could not safely return to the rough school on the far South Side.

Diagnosed with both bipolar and explosive intermittent disorder, Darion was liable to lash out. The players, too, were out to get him again, Jones felt.

Jones told the principal that she wanted Darion transferred, but was stunned when she was told he should go to an alternative school. Most alternative schools in CPS have small budgets and too few social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists to adequately help troubled students. Some of the schools hesitate to take students with a laundry list of problems, like Darion’s.

“When I tried to ask questions, the principal told me she wasn’t going to argue with me,” Jones recalls. “I told her she would be hearing from my attorney.”

“They thought I was a fool,” adds Jones, a short, stocky powerhouse of a mom.

Jones says she knew instinctively that an alternative school was not the right place for Darion. He sat home for more than a month as she pursued legal action on his behalf. It was only after Jones sought the counsel of an attorney that district officials acquiesced and approved a placement for Darion in a therapeutic day school.

Darion was extraordinarily lucky on several fronts. He had an involved mother who had been through similar struggles before with another child and knew about specialty schools that are designed to educate students with severe academic, behavioral and mental health problems.

These days, it is extremely difficult to get a placement in a private special education school.

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