Principal sees decrease in special services for students

August 23, 2009 Montefiore School, a Chicago public school on the West Side was a special school before there was such a thing as "special education." Every student has a primary diagnosis of emotional behavior with a secondary disability ranging from cognitive to other mental illness.

This school has been the only hope for this population.

For parents, Montefiore is the best thing that happened to their boys. They fear the future, when schools like Montefiore are no longer an option.

"Because Montefiore is more like a regular school than unlike. We have a wide array of services for children we had much more than we have today but we still do an outstanding job with limited resources," said Mary Ann Pollett.

Pollett has been the school's principal for 38 years. She is seeing a decrease in student bodies and services which are essential for her students.

"We have lost 26 teachers in the last 14 years. This program was always considered special and the flagship of special education up until 20 years ago," Pollett said. "We can understand there is a shortage of money, but where are the priorities."

Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago teacher union and former teacher for the deaf, says the biggest challenge is the cuts in the special education departments.

"People don't realize and the district probably doesn't realize that the teachers needs help beyond the classroom," said Stewart. "Or cannot deal with a certain population of students, who are on medication that have brain injuries, and they need support staff that are currently about 500 are being cut, and that's unconscionable."

According to the Office of Specialized Services, "There have been no staff cuts at Montefiore. In fact, an additional special needs nurse has been added to the staff. We continue to evaluate Montefiore's special needs resources."

"There are not hundreds but probably a couple of thousand young men out in our public schools who need a program like Montefiore," said Pollett.

"The parents want their children to be in safe, clean, learning environments. They want their child to be supported and helped and I think we have to give the parents voice more of an opinion," said Stewart.

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