1991 Designs for Change, a school research and advocacy group, documents for the first time how Chicago schools illegally segregated children with disabilities. Chicago’s action violated the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires schools to educate disabled children in the “least restrictive environment” possible.
MAY 1992 Designs for Change and the Northwestern University Law Center file a lawsuit on behalf of 53,000 children with disabilities who are entitled to special education services in the Chicago public schools. The suit is filed against the CPS and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). It charges, in part, that Chicago schools removed many students with disabilities to separate classrooms and schools, even though, with proper support services, they could have been included in regular classrooms. It contends ISBE contributed to the problem by failing to exercise its oversight authority.
FEBRUARY 1993 The U.S. District Court grants a motion to certify the lawsuit as a class-action suit. Attorneys for CPS move to settle the case.
AUGUST 1997 The plaintiffs, Designs for Change and Northwestern, reach a tentative settlement with the Chicago School Reform Board. ISBE refuses to settle and opts for a trial.
OCTOBER 1997 U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman conducts trial against the ISBE.
JANUARY 1998 A settlement agreement with Chicago is approved. It sets up the Education Connections program for helping schools come into compliance with federal law; makes clear that disabled students are to have equal access to magnet, vocational, charter and gifted programs; allows for disabled pre-school children to be educated with non-disabled peers; sets standards for assessment and reporting of test scores of disabled students; and sets up school-based problem solving to assess students having academic and behavior difficulties.
FEBRUARY 1998 Gettleman rules against ISBE, stating that the agency “has failed and continues to fail” to ensure that Chicago follows federal law.
DECEMBER 1998 Independent expert David Rostetter, a former U.S. Department of Education official, submits recommendations for a remedial plan that includes numeric targets for enrollment and classroom placement in least restrictive environment settings. ISBE then moves to negotiate a voluntary settlement with the plaintiffs; Gettleman approves their motion.
JUNE 1999 The ISBE settlement gets final approval. Plaintiffs, the court and ISBE are still working out specifics regarding how to implement the agreement.
AUGUST 1999 The ISBE hires Jimmy Gunnell to oversee implementation of the agreement.
MARCH 2000 The state begins site visits to the first 25 schools that are part of its new monitoring program.