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CTU, community groups sue CPS over improper selection of additional LSC members representing non-teaching staff

The Chicago Teachers Union and a number of Chicago activists and community organizations filed a lawsuit on July 21, 2011, to stop the Chicago Board of Education from continuing to sabotage the local school councils which have been the backbone of parent and community power in Chicago's public schools for the past 24 years.

Valencia Rias-Winstead, one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, is a long time activist and LSC member in Chicago's public schools. Above, she was photographed speaking during the June 15, 2010 meeting of the Board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The CTU and the groups involved in the lawsuit issued the following press release on the lawsuit, along with a copy of the lawsuit itself.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 21, 2011. Contact: Elaine K.B. Siegel ELAINE K.B. SIEGEL & ASSOC., P.C. 312/583-9970; Valencia Rias Designs for Change 312/236-7252, ext. 241 (office) 312/848-3381 (cell); Liz Brown, Media Relations Chicago Teachers Union 312/329-6250 (office) 773/606-4876 (cell) LizBrown@ctulocal1.com

Chicago Teachers Union, Community Groups, and Local School Council Members Demand That Court Set Aside Illegal Local School Council Elections Carried Out by the Chicago Board of Education

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Teachers Union, Designs for Change, Latino Organization of the Southwest, Parents United for Responsible Education, and nine individual Chicago Local School Council members filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education (Board) in the Cook County Circuit Court, asking for an injunction to set aside the appointments of 432 new LSC members who were illegally recruited and selected at the direction of the Chicago Public Schools central office to hold a non-binding poll on January 27, 2011 — more than a year earlier than the law stipulates – while also circumventing LSC election rules designed to insure a fair election.

“The Board is not above the law but in this case it acted as if it were,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “Since 1995, mayoral control has drowned out the voice of parents, students, teachers and school staff. LSCs — independent, democratically-elected LSCs — are the only practical check at the local school level on the Board’s powers.”

"Effective January 1, 2011, the Illinois General Assembly amended state law setting out detailed requirements for conducting fair Local School Council elections in Chicago. They added a non-teacher staff member to each Chicago Local School Council," said Elaine K.B. Siegel, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. "The law clearly states that the first ‘non-binding poll’ to nominate non-teacher LSC representatives should occur in spring 2012, at the time of the regular LSC election. This ensures that these new members are selected consistent with procedural safeguards in state law and Chicago Board policy,” Siegel added.

"However," Siegel continued, “CPS unlawfully chose to require schools to vote for these new members on January 27, 2001, over one year before they should have been chosen."

"Further, on December 30, 2010, CPS sent out a letter to principals with election instructions, which violate procedures that have governed for over a decade. The legislature realized that each school's principal has a major interest in the composition of the LSC; among other reasons, the LSC decides whether or not to renew the principal's contract. To guard against inappropriate principal influence on LSC elections, and to insure fair elections in general, the law and CPS policy spell out a number of procedural safeguards. By law, the LSC plays a watch-dog role in conducting the elections."

The CPS letter on the 2011 off-year LSC election procedures violates numerous procedural safeguards, for example:

 Although the Local School Council is required to play a crucial role in conducting the elections, the CPS guidelines do not require that the principal involve the LSC, or even inform them that the election was taking place.

• The letter only requires the principal to "inform all full-time non-teaching staff assigned to your school that they are eligible to run for the new seat on the LSC," All members of a school community have an interest in encouraging effective non-teacher staff members to run for the LSC. Many non-teacher staff live in the community and can bring knowledge of both the school and the neighborhood to the LSC. By limiting notification to non-teacher staff, the Chicago Public Schools increases the possibility that the principal will have undue influence over who runs.

• Many of the legal requirements for conducting an LSC election are ignored. For example, there are no provisions for election judges and poll-watchers, no prohibition on using school resources to promote a particular candidate, and no public forum for candidates to discuss their positions and qualifications. CPS directed only "a faculty meeting...to provide a forum for the candidates...”

• The CPS guidelines erroneously limits candidacy to full-time non-teacher staff, but the law includes part-time staff who spend more than 50% of their time in the school.

• The CPS guidelines erroneously limits voting rights to full-time staff, but the law gives voting rights to part-time staff who spend more than 50% of their time in the school.

"This memo reflects the view of many CPS officials that they are above the law —that regardless of what the law says they can slap together inaccurate illegal directives and demand that the schools follow them," said plaintiff Valencia Rias-Winstead, a long-time and current LSC member on multiple LSCs and a Leadership Development Consultant at Designs for Change.

"LSCs were created to shift educational decision making and accountability to the school level through a 1988 state law that applies only to Chicago and is still the motivating force for thousands of LSC members to participate in their schools. The principal's continued employment on a four-year performance contract depends on the support of the LSC. The potential abuse of giving principals the authority to ram through the recruitment and election of an individual who will renew their contract is frightening,” said Philis Washington, parent member and LSC Chair at Tanner Elementary School.

"The law’s intent was to add a strong independent voice for a staff member (such as paraprofessionals, security guards, and school clerks) who are not teachers (and not administrators). For years many of these same persons have played a vital [role in contributing to the safe, nurturing, academic environment needed by so many students," said Al Rodgers of Latinos of the Southwest and a member of the Morrill and Gage Park LSCs. "In many Chicago schools, non-teaching school staff live in the immediate school community and know both the school and community. This two-way connection is very critical to improving schools. We want fair elections."

"In many Chicago schools, the current Local School Council, which by law must play a key role in organizing and conducting their school's LSC election, was not even made aware that an election for the non-teaching staff member was taking place. Our LSC is going through principal selection, and we were not informed by our interim principal or anyone else about this new LSC position," said Barbara Pritchett LSC member at Altgeld Elementary School.

The illegal election challenged by this lawsuit runs counter to the inclusive, democratic vision of the LSC, as embodied in the original school reforms implemented more than two decades ago. These reforms continue to enhance school achievement in schools with high-functioning LSCs, and should be maintained to their full extent today.

Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director of plaintiff Parents United for Responsible Education (“PURE”), further observed, “This law, which was pushed through the state legislature hastily without input from LSCs or involved community groups, needs to be revised and clarified before it is implemented."

[The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools and, by extension, the students and families they serve. CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is the third largest teachers local in the country and the largest local union in Illinois.

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