Chicago 'Stand for Children' changes Chicago leadership... Did 'Stand' force out its chief African American spokeswoman less than nine months after Aurora hearings?

Less than nine months after she became prominent in testimony before the Illinois House of Representatives "School Reform Committee", Etoy Ridgnal, who at one point was listed as Stand for Children's Illinois director, has not only stopped working for the controversial corporate school reform organization, but is no longer in Chicago. According to Ridgnal, she is now working in Washington, D.C. The move came following several tumultuous months, during which Ridgnal was the most prominent local representative of Stand for Children.

As late as April 1, 2011, Etoy Ridgnal (above left) was standing up for the "Stand for Children" version of corporate school reform during debates in the black community with Karen Lewis (above center) of the Chicago Teachers Union. The debates, which were hosted by Black Star's Phillip Jackson (above right) were often heated. During the debates, Ridgnal told audiences that she was from Chicago, was committed to Chicago public schools, was living in Lawndale, and was sending her own children to Chicago public schools. By July 2011, she was no longer with Stand for Children and was reportedly living in Washington, D.C. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.She first broke into the Illinois political scene during the dramatic hearings before the so-called Illinois House School Reform Committee in Aurora on December 16 and December 17, 2010. Ridgnal's dramatic change of careers came only eight months after she led the testimony before the Illinois House of Representatives as one of two "legitimate" school reform groups on behalf of Stand for Children. The other legitimate group was "Advance Illinois," according to Roger Eddy and Linda Chapa La Via, the two state reps who chaired the "School Reform Committee" established by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in December 2010.

Subsequent information (the June 28, 2011 session at the Aspen Institute's "Ideas" festival which heard from Jonah Edelman and Chicago plutocrat James Crown) has revealed that Stand for Children's national Chief Executive Officer, Jonah Edelman, used the money provided to the group as a way of getting the school reform committee established by House Speaker Michael Madigan, despite the fact that the Illinois General Assembly already had committees on education in both houses. The URL for the Substance transcription of the complete Aspen Institute session with James Crown and Jonah Edelman is at:§ion=Article

Attempts by Substance to contact the Aspen Institute's education director, Ross Weiner, who chaired the June 28 session, have been rebuffed. Messages left on Weiner's Washington, D.C. phone have not been returned, and on July 13 Substance was told by AT & T that Weiner had requested that calls from Substance to his cell phone be blocked. The Substance transcript is the best Substance can provide to our readers until the Aspen Institute provides the media with its own transcript of the controversial event.

Above, left to right, Chirsty Peaslee (Stand for Children), Etoy Ridgnal (Stand for Children) and Robin Steans (Advance Illinois) received special privileges from the members of the newly created Illinois House of Representatives "School Reform Committee" during hearings in Aurora on December 16 and December 17, 2010. Although the main work of pushing the groups' union busting legislation against the Chicago Teachers Union was handled by Steans, the testimony of Ridgnal (who at the time was director of Stand for Children's newly opened Illinois office; prior to December 2010 Stand for Children didn't even have an Illinois phone number) and Peaslee was carefully scripted to provide the committee with the information it supposedly wanted. Ridgnal supported the "Stand" script on school reform, while Peaslee's testimony provided lurid narrative in support of the claim that younger teachers were better than veterans, who were portrayed by Peaslee (who taught for two years at Chicago's Betsy Ross Elementary School, an all-black school in the heart of the south side) as burnouts and drunks. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The testimony by Ridgnal, other representatives of Stand for Children, and Robin Steans of Advance Illinois, were on the agenda for the December 16 and December 17 hearings in Aurora Illinois as representing "school reform." Groups from Chicago that had been involved in school reform for as long as a quarter century — including Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), and Access Living Chicago — were relegated at the time to testifying during the hearings in a slot designated "miscellaneous."

When asked by Substance why Stand for Children Illinois and Advance Illinois were the only two groups recognized by his committee as representing "school reform," State Rep. Roger Eddy said, "We haven't seen them [the other Chicago groups] in Springfield." As later events showed, Stand for Children's profile in Illinois — in Eddy's case, "in Springfield" — came about following September and October 2010, when the group suddenly spent $600,000 through its Political Action Committee, making campaign contributions to several Illinois political candidates.

Among those receiving large amounts of money from Stand for Children prior to the November 2, 2010 elections were Keith Farnham and Jehan Gordan, both Democrats who were facing easy campaigns in their districts. Farnham received $50,000 from Stand for Children in October 2010; Gordan received $100,000. The amounts of the contributions and the size of the Stand for Children Illinois war chest only became public after the end of 2010, when Illinois learned that some of the wealthiest individuals in Chicago had contributed a total of $3 million to the Stand for Children efforts to outlaw strikes by the Chicago Teachers Union. One of those who made the contributions was billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, who has since been appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Chicago Board of Education. Pritzker donated $50,000 to Stand for Children during the last week of 2010, just before it became illegal to make such large contributions under new Illinois laws.

Veterans of decades of work on behalf of Chicago's schools like Julie Woestehoff of PURE (above reading during her December 16, 2010 testimony) were insulted by the members of the Illinois House School Reform Committee that was purchased by the millions of dollars Stand for Children brought to Illinois politics between September 2010 and December 31, 2010. Woestehoff, who began working to improve Chicago's public schools before one of the more lurid Stand for Children witnesses was born, was relegated to the "miscellaneous" witness section, while Stand for Children and Advance Illinois, as observers later learned, had purchased their seats at the table. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. During the December 16 and December 17 Aurora hearings in front of the newly created committee, the committee members were openly solicitous of the testimony of Stand for Children's representatives. This solicitousness continued even when the witnesses brought testimony that (in Ridgnal's case) bordered on the bizarre, or (in the case of another witness, Christy Peaslee) on the unethical. Ridgnal's testimony, melodramatic recounted how as a child on Chicago's South Side she was so neglected at home that she was referred to as the "pee pee girl" by classmates. She told the committee that her teachers at a public school (which she didn't name) had brought her clothes and helped her through the rough times.

Then she spoke in support of eliminating the right to strike for Chicago teachers, which was part of Stand for Children's "Performance Counts 2010" proposed legislation. None of the members of the committee asked questions about whether Ridgnal's thanks to the teacher who have saved her from urine stains was to eliminate the right to strike for Chicago Teachers Union members.

Following the Stand for Children script, repeated at Aspen by billionaire James Crown, that young, white, Teacher for American type teachers are by definition "better" than veteran union teachers such as those in the Chicago Teachers Union, Stand for Children gave a major performance during its testimony on behalf of its legislative proposals in December 2010. Stand for Children's Etoy Ridgnal (above right) watched carefully while Christy Peaslee read from her scripted remarks about how unfair seniority was to young inexperienced teachers. What Peaslee didn't tell the panel, and what none of the panelists wanted to hear, was that she was a novice teacher in a school (Betsy Ross Elementary) full of veteran black teachers, and that Peaslee's claim of entitlement was based on nothing more than ideology, since she had never seen her fellow teachers teach. The lurid script, including its racist basis, was taken as evidence by the Illinois House School Reform Committee on December 16, 2010, as part of the basis for the "Performance Counts 2010" law that Stand for Children and Advance Illinois were pushing as part of their agenda to cripple or destroy the Chicago Teachers Union and the rights that had been won by the union's 30,000 members, the majority of whom are not white, over the past 40 years. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of Ridgnal's colleagues during the testimony recounted in lurid terms how she was laid off because of low seniority at a South Side school. Stand for Children's witness Christy Peaslee, who taught for a couple of years at Betsy Ross Elementary School in Chicago, claimed that she had been laid off because of low seniority even though other teachers, with more seniority, were retained. Peaslee told the members of the committee that some of the retained teachers were drunks ("vodka bottles in the desk"), while she and the younger teachers like herself were energetic and doing wonderful things for the children. None of the law makers at the hearing asked questions to either of the women, despite the fact that in the second case the supposedly wonderful younger teacher was claiming to have witnessed illegal, unethical and dangerous activity on the part of a colleague.

Illinois State Rep. Roger Eddy (above, holding papers during the December 16, 2010 hearing) was openly hostile to the unions and veteran school reformers who came before the committee, while fawning over Advance Illinois, Stand for Children, and the Illinois Business Roundtable, some of whom had been busy purchasing the good will of the committee. Eddy even ignored the carefully scripted testimony by Stand for Children's Christy Peaslee, who told the committee that she had ignored what amounted to dangerous and illegal activities on the part of her teaching colleagues while a CPS teacher. Of course, the members of the committee didn't even bother to ask what school Peaslee had allegedly taught at when she observed the burnouts and drunks who kept their jobs because of the evils of the seniority system while the best young teachers lost theirs as the school downsized, in part because charter schools were opening in the community around the school at which she taught. Even the simplest skeptical questions would have revealed the unethical behavior of Peaslee during her time as a teacher at Betsey Ross Elementary School in Chicago, and a few additional questions would have revealed that Peasle's sanctimonious and self-serving testimony was racist: the vast majority of her fellow teachers at Betsy Ross were veteran African Americans, many of whom had devoted their adult lives and professional careers to the children of Chicago's South Side ghetto. At the time Peaslee taught at Betsy Ross, 100 percent of the children at the school were African American, the majority came from impoverished families, and the schools — along with its veteran teachers — constituted one of the few oases of stability (and caring) in the children's lives. Peaslee's testimony, however, amplified the political program being pushed by Stand for Children, Advance Illinois, and by R. Eden Martin of the Business Roundtable, whose attack on the Chicago Teachers Union is usually hidden behind the rhetoric of concern for children with no recignitiion of the economic class realities in Chicago's vast impoverished ghettos and barrios. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Ridgnal continued her advocacy work on behalf of Stand for Children during March and April 2011, when she represented the group in debates with Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, at the Chicago Urban League and at a west side church. During the debates, the inconsistencies of Ridgnal's positions (and the claims by Stand for Children to represent parents and children in Chicago) were repeatedly challenged by parents and community leaders with long and deep roots in Chicago's schools and communities. When asked by this reporter why Stand for Children had not bothered to contact members of Chicago's local school councils during its Chicago organizing (they basically did expensive push polling by telephone; a tactic that was also used by their well funded counterpart, Advance Illinois) Ridgnal was unable to give an answer.

For more than 20 years the Local School Councils in Chicago have been the broad base of parent, teacher and community organization in Chicago's remaining public schools. The expansion of Chicago charter schools, which is supported by both Stand for Children and Advance Illinois, eliminated local school councils. Across the country, parents of children who opt for the "choice" of charter schools have been learning to their dismay (as most recently dramatized in New York City in the award winning film "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman") that they are completely at the mercy of dictatorial administrators and quirky teachers at the charters. Parents who complain about the policies and practices of the charters are told that they made the "choice" of the charter school, as if to state that their choice meant they had surrendered all of their rights as parents when their children entered the halls of the KIPP, Harlem Success, UNO, or Noble Street charter schools which are held up by corporate America and the Duncan U.S. Department of Education as "models."


July 14, 2011 at 3:14 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Etoy Ridgnal

Really that was an incrediable follow up article relating to Ms. Ridgnal. One has to wonder after the Aspen video what will happen to Stand for Children Illinois. The common refrain among lobbyists posting on the Capitol Fax blog in relation to the future of that PAC in Springfield is that they are "toast." Because they cann't be trusted in relation to discussions and requests for funding of candidates.

But no matter what happens apparently that organization served its purpose in relation to SB7.

Rod Estvan

October 3, 2012 at 4:06 AM

By: Julius Stokes

Stand 4 Children

Go Christy Peaslee!

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