RYH Statement at the January 2020 CPS Board of Ed meeting

The Mayor Lightfoot appointed CPS Board of Ed held their monthly meeting on January 22, 2020. RYH's Parent Liaison for Special Education spoke on our behalf and on behalf of the ~3500 students who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication or “AAC” devices in CPS, as these students are being underserved. You can read her prepared statement below and watch video of her speech here. A thread of our live tweets are here. We have listed press coverage far below. (Before the monthly CPS BOE meeting, we attended the CPS Finance & Audit Committee meeting. Our live tweets are here.)



Mary Fahey Hughes, CPS Parent & RYH's Parent Liaison for Special Education

Good morning president del Valle, Board Members, Dr. Jackson and CPS Staff. My name is Mary Fahey Hughes Special Ed Parent Liaison with Raise Your Hand. 

I want to talk about the approximately 3500 students who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication or “AAC” devices in CPS, as these students are being underserved. 

There are only 6 people in the AAC Department (with plans to add 2 more from what I understand) and the majority of their time is spent doing evaluations to determine AAC eligibility, which currently has a 6 to 8 month wait list. 

AAC is more than a device, it is a form of communication and a language system that is a child’s voice, their way to make their needs known, assert themselves in the moment, direct their care, connect with others and participate in the world around them.  

Currently, 90% of students with complex communication needs enter adulthood without achieving functional literacy skills - undermining their educational achievement, employment options, social networks and access to independent living.  

The world of AAC is exploding with new technology and possibility and in CPS there is woefully inadequate training, if any training at all,  of teachers, speech pathologist and other staff who work with the children who utilize these devices. There is generally NO direct training in the schools, Teachers and SLPs are not required to attend training and Principals don’t have to release staff for training.

The training that does occur only addresses the technical aspects of AAC like turning a device on and off and basic navigation. 

There is no training given on how to use these devices to adapt and deliver the curriculum - especially with respect to literacy.

Training for paraprofessionals who are often the primary communication partner with these students is considered unnecessary.

For kids coming into CPS with an AAC device, there is no requirement that their teachers ever attend training.

A child who may be found eligible for a “trial” of an AAC device often finds their devices taken away after the trial period because the device “did not improve communication” within the trial period.  Without proper staff training and implementation, how can anyone make that determination with confidence?

Used effectively, these devices can open the world of communication and learning and CPS must increase AAC specialist staffing and provide mandatory training to all staff who teach students using these devices. 

On another note, Dr. Jackson, we are still very concerned with the redesign of the GoCPS System and that it increase equity and access for students with disabilities and the special ed advocacy community would appreciate the opportunity to give input prior to any finalization of any changes.


Press coverage of the meeting

WBEZ: Charter Schools Under Microscope At Chicago Board of Education Meeting

Sun-Times32 CPS charter schools get contract renewals

Chalkbeat ChicagoAs Chicago renews 33 charters, once-lauded Urban Prep network struggles forward

Sun-TimesNo need to fear ICE, even if you take part in school elections, CPS assures parents

Sun-TimesCTU asks CPS board to resolve $25 million veteran teacher pay fight

WTTW: CPS Seeking to Combat Truancy Through Attendance Tracking Program

City Bureau's Chicago Documenters live tweets are here.