The Kenwood Oakland community organization on Chicago’s South Side joined with education activists across the country at a press conference yesterday in downtown Chicago to contend that so-called education reform policies violate their civil rights by marginalizing the voices of minority parents and students.
Plaintiffs from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Washington, D.C. as well as Wichita, Kansas and Eureka, Mississippi announced that they plan to file seven separate complaints with the U.S. Department of Education stating that their respective city’s education policies violate the Civil Rights Act.
“Since we pay taxes we should have the right to have input in these schools,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer with Kenwood Oakland. “The common denominator in all these city policies is that we don’t.”
The complaint follows a judge throwing out a similar lawsuit for which Chicago Local School Council members asked the courts to undo 17 school closings and staff replacements the Chicago Board of Education green lighted in February.
The call for federal intervention also comes amid a nationally-watched contract negotiation between the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union. CTU has voiced their support for the activist’s complaints.
Brown and student speakers such as Diamond McCulloch, a senior at Dyett High School on the South Side – a school CPS scheduled to close, specifically complained that minority voters are undermined when a city appoints, instead of elects its school boards. McCulloch noted that most suburban Chicago school boards are elected.
Here is video of the press conference and Brown's statements:
Unlike a lawsuit, a complaint requests that the Education Department investigate the charges, as opposed to undo a school board action. A Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled in May that the courts lack the authority to second guess Board of Education decisions.
Brown issued an ultimatum for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago Public Schools, to meet with him in two weeks “or we will bring the meeting to his doorstep.”
Activists from many of the various cities filing complaints were present, including Helen Moore from Detroit who said, “For over 45 years I have been working for our children to get a quality education [and] I have never seen anything so rampantly horrible as what’s happening with these reform movements.”
A large part of Moore’s displeasure is that Detroit has had an emergency financial manager, Roy Roberts, since February 2011. Since starting the job, Roberts has battled with Detroit Public Schools staff and taken action against 20 public schools by either closing or converting them into charter schools.
Here is video of Moore on the Detroit Public Schools and how it ties in to Chicago:
In addition to confronting Duncan on the issue, Brown, Moore and other advocates suggested that they might do "freedom rides" in coming weeks, taking their fight on the road to inform people about their concerns in each city that is filing a complaint.