MEDIA WATCH: With protesters 'screaming' even the Sun-Times can hear... Even the Chicago Sun-Times can't miss news when it's screaming in their reporters' faces

Although the Chicago Sun-Times missed the protests by more than 500 teachers, parents, students, and community activists camped out in front of the Board of Education on the night of December 13, 2011, and even though two Sun-Times reporters were stunned when the news broke out at the Board of Education meeting less than ten feet from them during the Mic Check on December 14, 2011, the city's tabloid morning newspaper managed to get some of the story up on its website by mid-afternoon, despite attempts by officials of CPS to spin the story.

A number of Chicago reporters began covering the "Mic Check" story as it unfolded at about 11:00 a.m. on December 14, 2011 during the meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (as can be seen in the above photograph, with a WBEZ radio reporter holding the microphone to community leader Adourthus McDowell, who began the mic check). But for the Sun-Times editorial write Kate Grossman (red hair, above right) and Education Writer Rosalind Rossi, the story was that someone was "screaming" while they waited dutifully for the story to begin with the words of Tim Cawley and Jean-Claude Brizard. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The most dramatic telling of the historic story came in the form of photographs put up at the sun-times website by mid-afternoon.

The URL for the photographs, for those who cannot get a hotlink, is:


Protesters take over Chicago School Board meeting. BY ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter/ December 14, 2011 12:04PM

Time names ‘The Protester’ as ‘Person of Year’

Protesters ‘mic check’ speech to CPS Board members. Updated: December 14, 2011 10:19PM A band of screaming protesters took over a Chicago School Board meeting Wednesday with a tag-team of chants that charged the system’s school closing policy with failing Chicago’s children and producing “chaos.’’

After about 20 minutes of protest chants, board members retreated into closed session only to emerge about two hours later and eventually approve, without comment, some of the very programs the protesters were challenging. Twelve new charter campuses were okayed.

Kate Grossman finally began covering the story, which was no longer unfolding on the video monitor controlled by CPS officials, but had spilled out into the hallway following the ejection of several people by CPS security. But then, with other reporters, she found herself locked out of the meeting until a lawyer and some other reporters (including Substance) reminded CPS security that to exclude reporters from a public event in a public building might constitute a violation of the First Amendment and wind up with CPS facing a lawsuit, such as those it has lost during the past two years for other violations of the Bill of Rights. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.During the height of the screaming, at least eight of the vocal group members were escorted out of board chambers by security. As each was forced from the chamber, another protester, without missing a beat, popped up in another part of the room to take over the leading of the chants.

Adourthus McDowell, a Chicago Public School parent and member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, began the takeover by rising from his chair and interrupting a presentation by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on a new $660 million capital construction plan.

Using a “mic check” technique borrowed from Occupy Wall Street protestors, McDowell read from a prepared text in short bursts so comrades planted around the room could repeat his words and thereby amplify them for the crowd.

“We see through the sounds bites,’’ said McDowell, his face twisted with anger. “You have betrayed the public trust. You have failed Chicago’s children.”

Protesters charged that years of school shutdowns, turnarounds and the replacement of neighborhood schools with selective-enrollment or charter schools that admit via lottery had destabilized poor minority communities. School shake-ups have forced children to walk longer distances, through dangerous areas, to new schools that often proved to be low-scoring themselves, protestors said.

“Children have died, literally and spiritually, as a result of your policies,’’ McDowell told grim-faced board members. “You have produced chaos.’’

The group contended that both Brizard and the man who appointed him, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “should be fired.”

The tightly-organized protest erupted after some 300 parents, students, teachers and school activists protested outside the board Tuesday night, some even battling rain to stay overnight outside.

As a result, Wednesday’s meeting was a packed affair and the first since CPS officials announced plans to phase out Dyett and Crane high schools, close four elementary schools, and replace the staffs of 10 other schools during “turnarounds.’’ Those actions are up for a February board vote.

In a surrealistic scene after board members moved into closed session, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey grabbed the microphone and led the beginning of the public participation section of the meeting to ensure speakers who had been waiting for hours to speak could at least comment on videotape for later viewing by board members.

Perhaps absent board members left because they were having a “hard day,” Sharkey told the crowd, but as a teacher, “if you have a hard class, you can’t just take your ball and go home.”

Chicago School Board President David Vitale explained later that the board moved into closed session earlier than planned to “cool down’’ the situation, but noted that his colleagues did listen to every speaker who was still left by they time they emerged two hours later.

Vitale called it “unfortunate’’ that “the voice and conduct of a few drowned out those of all others.”

Wednesday’s protest was organized by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, members of the Chicago Teachers Union and Occupy-Chicago, members of those groups said.

The capital construction plan that Brizard was trying to explain Wednesday includes spending $75 million to renovate Chicago Vocational High School, the site of a proposed “turnaround,’’ and to focus new construction mostly on schools that are whiter and more affluent than the district average.

The South Loop’s Jones College Prep would get a $96 million campus; Edison Park Elementary and the Clearing’s Hale Elementary would each get a $15 million building; and Bell Elementary in North Center would get a $10 million annex. Plus, a $45 million elementary school is planned for the southeast part of the city.

Ironically, perhaps, for those reporters and citizens who expect the Chicago Tribune to be the mouthpiece of corporate Chicago and the Pritzker family interests, the earliest story published on line by the Chicago Tribune carried much more of the news of what was unfolding at the Board of Education meeting, and aptly characterized the Board members' retreat as "scurrying" in its headline.


Protesters send CPS board members scurrying

Protesters disrupt CPS board meeting

Time names "The Protester" 2011 Person of the Year

By Joel Hood and Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Tribune reporters. 12:18 p.m. CST, December 14, 2011

In a chaotic scene at Chicago Public Schools' headquarters Wednesday, the school board abruptly ended its meeting and went into closed session after being shouted down by a couple dozen angry parents and union representatives upset over planned school closures, consolidations and turnarounds.

At least 10 people were escorted by security out of the building after a systematic protest in defiance of the board's actions. The proposed school realignments are to come before the board for official action in February.

"Nearly 40 percent of new schools that have replaced ones that closed are performing at the lowest levels," one of the protesters said. "We see through the sound bites. You have betrayed the public trust. You have failed Chicago's children."

One by one, members of the audience stood to read from a prepared speech denouncing CPS' actions and policies. They interrupted CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard's presentation to the board several times.

After several interruptions, board president David Vitale abruptly closed the meeting and the board followed him off the floor.

Before he left, Vitale told the crowd that he hoped they'd "gotten it out of their system," prompting more jeers.

"We need you out of our system," one man yelled back.

"I am fed up," said retired CPS teacher Howard Emmer, one of those escorted out. "Brizard comes in, he's new. But these are all old policies. Charters, turnarounds, school closings are all failed policies."

Parents, teachers and union representativeshad turned out in force Wednesday morning at CPS headquarters to protest the proposed school closures and turnaround projects that could bring hundreds of layoffs.

"They have ignored parent concerns in this process, they've neglected teacher voice and undermined student progress," said Chicago Teachers Union spokesman Jackson Potter prior to the school board meeting.

"Today we stand before you to demand that the Board of Education immediately end all of its moves to push school actions upon the community. We also are asking them to stop charter expansion and to stop handing over these schools to politically connected, under-performing charter networks."

Board members were expected to vote Wednesday on renewing charters for six different networks. The board will vote on a series of school closures, turnarounds and consolidations in February.Supporters of some of those schools crowded CPS' district office with signs and a clear message of defiance for the board.

"Our school's academic performance -- despite the historical instability and administrative changes, the dismantling of the local school council by CPS, and the continuous lack of resources and funding -- has achieved more than adequate gains," said Sharisa Lee-Vaval, a parent of three children at Wendell Smith Elementary, a South Side school targeted for turnaround. "Due to the dedicated commitment of students, parents and teachers, Wendell Smith is on a path to success. Now is the time to support us with resources and funding that is so sorely needed."

Hannah Richardson, a Montessori teacher at Stagg Elementary, another school slated for turnaround, said she worries that such specialty early childhood education will be cut in the turnaround process.

"Our school has worked very hard to get a Montessori program into the school, a program that is often only offered to families of well-off children who can afford tuition to private schools," Richardson said. "We want our school to continue on the path that it is, where we are increasing scores all the time."

Claudia Moreno, a bilingual teacher at Piccolo Elementary, said close-outs and turnarounds are unfairly targeting minority students from low-income communities.

"We need to stop targeting those in the community that are of color and are of cultural diversity," Moreno said. "We need to support our schools, not close them. We can function if the board and the legislature gives us the funding we need to make our schools great."

Jitu Brown, a member of the local school council at Dyett High School, a struggling South Side high school scheduled to begin a three-year phase-out next year, said the board's actions over time to move students from one school to another and strip funding from others have gutted once high-performing schools in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

"When will we ask the question 'why' and stop believing the stereotypes about black and brown children? We love our children as much as anybody else."


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