Colleen Harrah McKenna, who teaches deaf and hard of hearing students at Chase Elementary in Logan Square, giving remarks at Thursday's news conference. Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago

LOGAN SQUARE — The Chicago Teachers Union has thrown its weight behind an ongoing push to save Chase Elementary’s beloved deaf and hard of hearing program from closure — but district officials said CPS has “no plans” to cut the program.

Chase Elementary at 2021 N. Point St. has been a hub for deaf and hard of hearing students for seven years. The Logan Square school has one of the largest deaf and hard of hearing programs in the district, with 29 students.

The program, which caters to students whose hearing loss significantly impacts their ability to learn, is woven into the fabric of Chase, teachers and parents said. A mosaic mural with sign language greets students and parents every day.

“We’re accepted here, we’re embraced here, and the hearing students actually interact with our kids,” said Nancy Beaucaire, a teacher who piloted the deaf and hard of hearing program at Chase. “I’ve been at schools where that does not happen. Kids are asking our students for playdates. That’s never happened in my almost 30 years of teaching. Never.”

But after what parents and teachers described as years of success, CPS officials floated the idea this spring of “phasing out” Chase’s deaf and hard of hearing program. Under the district’s plan, the program would stop accepting new students in the fall, parents and teachers said.

CPS officials initially blamed “transportation issues.” CPS and other school districts across the country are struggling to keep buses running because of a nationwide driver shortage.

Officials then said the program was needed in another part of the city, CTU leaders said. CPS runs 36 deaf and hard of hearing programs across the city, according to the district.

A CPS spokeswoman didn’t say why the district considered shutting down the program.

Chase fourth grader Biviana at a news conference outside of the school Thursday. Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago

Chase teachers, parents and students were devastated by the news. Students with hearing loss are often bounced around to different schools, which puts a significant strain on their families and the student themselves. CPS moved the deaf and heard of hearing program to Chase from a different public school seven years ago.

“Most of our kids have had a very difficult time with hospitals, cardiologists, therapists, and now CPS is doing this to us again? It’s not fair. It’s really not fair,” parent Elba Davina said.

Parent Sergio Hernandez said his 8-year-old daughter, Biviana, was “so excited” when she enrolled at Chase and saw other kids wearing hearing aids in the cafeteria. Biviana has grown immensely in her time at Chase, despite her medical challenges, Hernandez said.

“She was at a different school before she came to Chase, and we felt that she wasn’t speaking as she should at her age,” he said. “But once she came here, she started to excel. I don’t want to make it sound bad, but now she can’t stop talking … because of Chase, her staff, her teachers.”

Hernandez and Davina were among a group of parents, teachers, union members and local elected officials who staged a protest outside of the Logan Square school Thursday morning, urging CPS to keep the deaf and hard of hearing program in place.

Students with hearing loss would suffer tremendously if they were transferred out of Chase, or if the school was no longer an option for them, teachers and parents said.

Teacher Colleen Harrah McKenna, who piloted the program with Beaucaire, said students felt dejected upon hearing the news.

“The students came up to me yesterday with confusion and with questions. One student asked, ‘What If I take my hearing aids out? They will never know, and then I can stay at Chase,'” McKenna said, fighting back tears. “Another teared up, and asked, ‘Why are we hated for being deaf? Why are we hated for having cochlear implants?'”

But CPS said students and families have nothing to worry about, as the deaf and hard of hearing program will remain at Chase.

While CPS had “very preliminary discussions” about shutting down the program in the spring, the district changed course and district officials confirmed in writing May 25 no changes will be made, district officials said in a written statement Thursday.

In the statement, CPS said it’s “investing $68 million more in funding in the proposed FY2023 budget to advance equity and meet the needs of diverse learners across the District. This includes $62 million more for teacher and paraprofessional positions and $6 million more for additional case manager positions.”

The union, however, still has concerns. CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said prospective parents are unable to register online for next school year.

“They’re talking out of both sides of their mouth,” Geovanis said. “You’re not keeping the program open and thriving if you’re closing it to new students. You’re actually strangling it more slowly,”

A CPS spokesperson said the district’s Office of Diverse Leaners and Supports and Services is helping parents register manually. Registration in the deaf and hard of hearing program is a “multi-step process” that includes a meeting with the district’s Individualized Education Programs (IEP) team, the spokesperson said.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_