Oliver Curran loves to talk. To him, watching news about politics or chatting with his mom is more fun than playing with toy trucks.
As much as he loves talking, Oliver, 12, can’t read, his mother, Nancy Curran, said. Curran brought her concern to Oliver’s special education team at Coonley Elementary School in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, but instructors told her Oliver just needed more time, she said.
That was more than a year ago, Curran said. Now, with Oliver attending school virtually due to the pandemic, Curran has noticed other students are already reading in her son’s seventh-grade class of fellow special education students.
“Why are other kids reading and not my son?” said Curran, of Streeterville. “I’m very concerned about that, and I’m not really being taken seriously.”
Oliver is one of more than 63,000 students
in CPS — 18% of the student body, according to the district’s 2020 report card — and one of more than 7 million students across the nation who have learning accommodations through Individualized Education Programs or other defined plans, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Remote learning has opened a window for parents to peer into their students’ classrooms, which was difficult to do before the coronavirus pandemic. At Chicago Public Schools, some parents of children with disabilities say they are disheartened by services they believe fail to meet students’ needs and are upset by the low expectations some educators have for their children.
Mo Buti, who founded a Chicago advocacy organization, AiepA, for people with autism and other disabilities, said her clients observing their children’s virtual classes are realizing they aren’t always being challenged in school.
One of Buti’s clients recently noticed their son’s sixth-grade CPS class still has morning circle and song time, which Buti said is more typical of activities for younger kids.
“For the first time ever, parents are getting a snapshot of what school looks like for their child,” Buti said. “The most, kind of, sad thing is that many parents are realizing maybe the level of their child or the low expectations of their child.”