MEDIA WATCH: NPR brings Chicago library scandal to national audience, but allows CPS to repeat ongoing lies

The November 12, 2010, news report on National Public Radio (NPR) highlighting the fact that Chicago has (at least) 160 public schools without school libraries is, perhaps, a beginning. But by continuing to report the "news" from official sources, the NPR reporters continue to allow official lies to go unchallenged.

The dramatic story of the 45-day fight of the parents, students, and teachers from Whittier Elementary School is, all along the way, a story of official lies and grass roots truths. On the third day of the sit-in (September 17), as we reported earlier in Substance (both on line and in print), CPS spokesman Monique Bond lied all day to reporters as those inside La Casita (the "Little House," the name parents had given to the Whittier school field house) by telling them that the building was dangerous, and that CPS was going to arrest the parents and children who had been sitting in in the building for trespassing for their own good.

Monique Bond even produced a letter, supposedly from an architectural firm, claiming that they had inspected the building and found it to be unsafe. But with the resources of a $6.5 billion budget at her command, Bond refused to make copies of the "report," instead holding it tightly and showing it to reporters, while the clock ticked down to the time when everybody inside La Casita would be arrested.

The lies continue at just about every point when the parents tried to get straight answers from CPS officials. At one point, CPS had the gas company turn off the gas going into the building, citing safety concerns. When the City Council voted to order the Board to turn the gas back on, the gas was turned back on. The building didn't blow up, but Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman, who may or may not have ever been in the building, was quoted in the press as saying he was sure that the building was unsafe because he had once been in charge of "Emergency Management" for the City of Chicago and, therefore, was an expert on such things.

Huberman generally avoided the entire event, and most reporters (especially those of us from Substance) as well. Whenever official press briefings were scheduled, Monique Bond would call a handful of reporters (including, usually, one from public radio). They were then pledged to keep any press briefing a secret from Substance until it was over. Throughout the La Casita fight, they did.

On the key day in the confrontation (September 17), Substance had two reporters inside La Casita, the Sun-Times had a photographer, and Indy media people were with the parents getting ready for when the Chicago Police forced their way into the building and arrested everyone who refused to leave. Others were on the scene, outside the building, and the coverage after the dramatic breakthrough of the group of people who had been forced to remain outside a square block police perimeter was fairly straightforward. Then the media manipulation began again.

While there may be some who think that the dramatic story of Chicago's dearth of libraries was good simply because it appeared on NPR and was reported with the soothing voice of Steve Inskeep, consider the fact that several official lies are simply quoted as fact. Does Chicago really have a shortage of qualified school librarians, or has Chicago refused to hire school librarians? Does Chicago really not have the space for libraries in 160 schools (who even has a list of those schools?), or has Chicago simply shut down as many libraries as possible to save money? A map that was published in the Chicago Tribune during the La Casita sit-in days showed that the schools without libraries were situated almost exclusively in those parts of town where poor black and brown children have their public schools.

Better than nothing? We'll let our readers decided. The following is the complete NPR report:

November 10, 2010

Nearly one in four Chicago public elementary schools and more than fifty high schools don't have staffed, in-school libraries. Parents at one school were so incensed, they occupied a school building for more than a month to pressure city officials to add one. School officials say they value libraries, but in an era of tight budgets, they often lose out to other priorities.

Copyright © 2010 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


And let's go next to Chicago, where parents are protesting over school libraries, or the lack of them. Nearly a quarter of the city's elementary schools and several high schools do not have full library facilities. Parents say this is holding the kids back. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports on what they're doing about it.

CHERYL CORLEY: A group of parents and activists are meeting at La Casita. The ramshackle field house on the grounds of Whittier Elementary School was their home for 43 days.

Ms. EVELIN SANTOS (Protest Organizer): This is our library in La Casita.

CORLEY: Evelin Santos, a college student and one of the protest organizers, walks to the backroom. It's full of books; some catalogued neatly on shelves, others in milk cartons, some still packed in boxes. On the wall, a child's drawing of two dogs with the message: Welcome to the Library, in Spanish.

Ms. SANTOS: I believe we have more than 4,000 books in here.

CORLEY: Santos says the group started collecting books at the beginning of their protest, with donations pouring in from all over the state. Librarians came by too, donating their time to help put the books in order.

Ms. SANTOS: The students here need a library in order for them to get the proper skills to prosper in high school and in college.

CORLEY: The field house library is off limits to students now, until parents and the school board resolve their battle over its use. Inside the school building, classrooms have book collections, but parent Michelle Palencia - who has a six-year-old son at the school - says that's inadequate.

Ms. MICHELLE PALENCIA: They don't have the accessibility that you need to get everything they need done, like reports and projects, and just get basic information.

CORLEY: Carolina Gaete says without a library and trained librarians, the students at Whittier are at a disadvantage, as they try to meet academic standards.

Ms. CAROLINA GAETE: We are being evaluated with schools that have more resources; that have the tools necessary to excel. You want us to compete. You want us to be in the race with one leg.

CORLEY: There are 600-plus public schools in the Chicago district and about 160 don't have libraries. Julie Walker, with the American Association of School Librarians, says she understands parents concerns.

Ms. JULIE WALKER (Executive Director, American Association of School Librarians): We feel that students should be immersed in reading materials, you know, from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night.

CORLEY: Paul Whitsitt, who oversees the schools central library department, says he'd like to see all of the city's public schools with fully staffed libraries. But...

Mr. PAUL WHITSITT (Director, Libraries and Information Services): Nationwide there is a shortage of trained school librarians, and especially in urban and rural areas. So, sometimes that the issue. Sometimes it's just a budgetary issue.

CORLEY: And Like many school systems across the country, the Chicago Public Schools face a deep budget deficit. Principals and local school councils control most of the budget, and libraries often lose out in the competition for space as schools look to update resources. At Whittier, for example, there's a new computer lab, a new science lab, and an expanded lunchroom.

The school district says it could convert a classroom into a library, but parents say some grades are already sharing classrooms so the field house is a better option.

Spokeswoman Monique Bond says the district has funds to put libraries in schools that need rebuilding.

Ms. MONIQUE BOND (Communications Officer, Chicago Public Schools): But that is with a school that's overcrowded and desperately needs expansion.

CORLEY: And Whittier, says Bond, does not meet those criteria. So the negotiations continue. And while all involved say they now agree that a library is needed, the problem continues to be where.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.



November 12, 2010 at 6:47 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Blame the Victim?

"Chicago Public Schools face a deep budget deficit. Principals and local school councils control most of the budget"

Blame the victim?

November 13, 2010 at 1:07 PM

By: Then, Mr. Whitsitt why are

their so many CPS librarians out of work?


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