Chicago Board of Ed Turns Deaf Ear to Parents

This editorial by Becky Malone, the leader of PAA-affiliate 19th Ward Parents, appeared in today’s Chicago Sun-Times:

The monthly Chicago Board of Education public meeting is a farce.

Every month, for seven months now, our organization, 19th Ward Parents, has attended the meeting to address our concerns regarding an unfunded longer school day and the lack of respect for our teachers and their craft.

Under the illusion of inclusion, we have taken off work, found child care for our children, or as was the case last month, we brought them with us in the pre-dawn hours to CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark.

On many occasions we have gotten into line by 6 a.m. to wait for two hours hoping to get the golden ticket that would allow us an audience with the board only to return to the same line for an additional two hours before being herded into the party. By this point each month, we have spent nearly five hours traveling and waiting before the meeting has even begun.

At the June 27 meeting, CPS officials and the board slowly meandered into chambers, greeting one another, chatting with family and friends of several retirees before finally taking their seats by 10:45, 15 minutes after the scheduled start of the meeting. Formalities commenced and then, for over one hour, we listened to speakers not listed on the agenda. By 12 p.m., the public participation part of the meeting finally began, over five hours after our day with three adults and five children started!

As was to be expected, our children became fidgety and a bit loud and when we were asked to keep our group quiet, one of our members asked when the public would be allowed to address the board. She pointed out that we are taxpayers and that this is our forum to have our voices heard, that we are tired of coming down month after month and having that opportunity continually delayed! She was escorted out of the meeting for being too loud. At the May meeting, our speaker had to leave just after 1 p.m. to pick up his children and never made it to the podium.

We are often asked if we feel the board and the mayor are listening to parents and we always reply no. If the board cared what we had to say, meetings would start with public participation to ensure that everyone who made the effort to attend could be heard. If the mayor cared, he would meet with parent groups and speak with us directly, not address us at staged press conferences or through carefully drafted media releases.

After one of our presenters spoke in June, she was addressed by board member Dr. Mahalia Hines who said she was saddened to think that we believe the board doesn’t care about our children, and that we need to consider economic conditions when we make our demands of CPS — for a better education that would include smaller class sizes, libraries, arts and music, playgrounds, textbooks, and certified teachers for every school. We were not allowed to respond, which incidentally took longer than the two minutes we were allowed to speak.

So I will respond here by saying we recognize that our city is in financial crisis, but can we truly come up with no better solution than to strap our budget woes to the backs of our children? We implore our city and our school board to work with Chicago Teachers Union to find a better way.

Becky Malone is a Chicago Public Schools parent and member of 19th Ward Parents.

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