March 24, 2014. Chicago. The Chicago Public School system and City Hall are under rapidly mounting condemnation from furious parents over the city’s decision to yank small children out of class and interrogate them alone, behind closed doors without a single witness. Parents had no warning or choice and only found out after the fact.
One parent's dramatic act to show her anger. Image courtesy of Fred Klonsky.
Students as young as 8-years-old were pulled from their classrooms in a CPS investigation over teacher actions that may violate state and federal law. Suggesting that City Hall lawyers had no interest in serving or protecting the children, the attorneys berated the often terrorized kids with questions demanding to know what teachers and parents were thinking and what their motivations were. They were also intimidated into giving statements implicating their fellow third graders.
CPS vs. Teachers Union - kids caught in the middle
It’s nothing new for City Hall bureaucrats and Teachers Union officials to harm their students in their never-ending war over money and power. But this time, parents, witnesses and even Chicago’s local media outlets have agreed that the city went too far. They’re condemning actions by City Hall officials that parents are comparing to Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.
The controversy is difficult to follow because both sides - the teachers union and City Hall - seem to be less than honest in their statements to parents and taxpayers. It all started a month or so ago when a large number of CPS teachers simultaneously began talking openly of breaking the law and purposely refusing to administer the state-mandated proficiency test titled, ‘Illinois Standards Achievement Test’, or ISAT for short. The fact that so many teachers suddenly appeared in the local media with the same talking points criticizing the ISAT and threatening to boycott it gave the appearance of some kind of organized, behind-the-scenes political agenda.
Illinois state law and the federal ‘No Child Left Behind’ law each require teachers to administer the ISAT test because state and federal funding are contingent upon it. But teachers complained that they are forced to give too many standardized tests each year and were picking the ISAT to make a stand, even it if it was a criminal act. CPS officials responded by threatening to decertify teachers who refused to give the test and even remove them from the school building.
School officials released a statement in the build-up to test day, “CPS has decreased the number of standardized tests issued each year, but the District is required by Illinois law to administer the ISAT, and the test is tied to federal and state funding for schools.” When test day finally came two weeks ago, most CPS schools administered the test without incident. But teachers at a few Chicago schools followed through on their threats and boycotted the test.
Test Day D-Day
As ISAT test day approached, teachers were warned by attorneys not to boycott the test, as it may be a violation of state and federal law. Instead, they urged parents to voluntarily pull their children out of the test so they could be instructed like normal on ISAT day while the remainder of the students took the test. Teachers insisted that one extra day of chaotic and distracted instruction was the reason for their boycott - not to punish CPS by denying them state and federal funding over City Hall’s insistence on replacing Chicago’s public schools with charter schools. Readers will have to decide for themselves what they believe the teachers’ true motivation was.
When ISAT test day was over, a handful of teachers at a handful of schools declared victory and opted out of the test to instruct the dozens of children whose parents refused to allow their kids to take the ISAT test. One north side school in particular, Drummond Elementary, saw a whopping two-thirds of parents pull their children out of the test. And that became ground zero for City Hall’s invasion of lawyers and interrogators last week.
On Thursday, a handful of parents began seeing outraged warnings on Facebook that government agents had raided a couple CPS schools and were interrogating small kids without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Most parents didn’t find out until they picked their children up from school at the end of the day.
School officials insist the children, as young as 8, were given the notice instead of their parents. They also argue that the little kids were given the choice to opt out of the one-on-one closed-door questioning sessions with CPS attorneys. The lawyers insist they did nothing illegal. But parents told angry stories of their kids being interrogated like criminal suspects, with government agents demanding to know at times, “Are you sure? Are you lying?”
The line of questioning, and the intensity of it, doesn’t seem to jive with the official CPS explanation for the interrogations. School officials released a statement on Friday, a day after the incident, explaining that the investigation and questioning were to insure, “students were comfortable during the time the test was administered.” Again, readers will have to decide for themselves if the raid was really to insure the kids were “comfortable” or if it was as the teachers insist, to intimidate and threaten those who would dare to jeopardize state and federal funding.
Wrong on so many levels
It’s understandable that many parents of children who were interrogated are absolutely livid over the incident. And not at the teachers union’s disingenuous campaign to protect their students from tests. Parents and regular citizens alike are angry at the Gestapo tactics used by CPS officials to interrogate and intimidated small children, alone in small rooms without witnesses, in an attempt to punish the teachers who lead the boycott.
“I was absolutely furious and I really still am,” one parent whose daughter was interrogated told the Chicago Sun Times, “It’s really scary now that I know the power they have…It’s like Russia, there’s no accountability for the powers that be.” The parent went on to explain in horror, “I called the school to make sure my daughter wouldn’t be interrogated, but it was too late, it already happened.”
The above parent was one of those who opted their child out of the ISAT test. She explained, “The truth is, her teacher did not opt my daughter out of the exam. I opted her out. If they wanted to question someone, they should talk to me.” The paper quoted another parent who said, “It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t sound fair. It sounds intimidating and scary for our kids.”
All politics and laws aside, one traumatized parent summed up the anger and fears of many parents Friday. “My third grade student was interrogated by herself in the principal’s office with the door closed,” she recounted, “Which surprised me that you would take a child of that age and close the door to the office with someone that you don’t know.” Reminding City Hall that nobody takes small children alone behind closed doors anymore these days, she finished, “I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but it’s certainly unethical.”
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