Fight back against Longest School Day a major feature of the Board of Education meeting

The push back against the Chicago Public Schools attempt to implement a 7.5 hour school day and a school year that is two weeks longer next year kicked into higher gear at the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 when more parents spoke out against the city implementing a much longer school day. The parents who spoke against what more and more are dubbing the "Longest School Day" came from all parts of the city, and even included parents from the 13 so-called "pioneer" schools that had tried to implement the proposed longer school day against the Chicago Teachers Union contract this school year.

Nellie Cotton, a parent from Grimes-Fleming elementary school, was joined by other parents who spoke against what more and more are calling the "Longest School Day" at the Board of Education's March 28, 2012 meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Parents from Skinner North, one of the 13 'pilot' schools (eventually, these were called the "Pioneer" schools by CEO Jean-Claude Brizard) that implemented the 7.5 hour school day this year, said that the longer day is exhausting, especially for the little children, and more people feel burnout as a result of the Board's decision to have one of the longest school days in the country.

"My child is exhausted," said parent Dolores Fischinger. "The longer day doesn't mean it is better." Skinner North, along with the 12 other pilot schools, had faculty waive their contract rights to implement the longer school day. Many believe the decision was Mayor Rahm Emanuel's to divide the union.

"It's been absolutely insulting," Nellie Cotton, a parent from Grimes-Fleming Elementary School, told the Board members. "CPS told us this was a done deal."

CPS has claimed that only a vocal minority — parents organized in the 19th Ward on the far southwest side — are against the 7.5 hour school day. The Board meeting proved far more parents across the city are very upset as well.

But surprisingly enough, the well-organized 19th ward group against the 7.5 school day, actually sounded the weakest among the loud, and passionate parents who spoke out against the longer day at the Board meeting. Alderman Matt O'Shea, who held a forum on the longer day, told the Board members that the surveys of parents show a division between those who support the longer 7.5 hour day, and those who do not. He said support for the 7.5 hour school even varies school to school.

"There needs to be a process for parents who support the 7.5 hour plan and for parents who support the 6.5 hour plan," Ald. O'Shea said. O'Shea had hosted a meeting at Morgan Park High School regarding the length of the school day.

But the parents who spoke next were clearly against CPS's proposal to implement a school day that will be one hour longer than the state's average 6.5 hour school day. Parent Jennifer Biggs said the decision to go to a much longer school day will force herself and others to leave the city and find schools in the suburbs where parents' concerns are taken into consideration.

The space for "FACE" (the office of family and community engagement") remained empty during the Board's March 28, 2012 meeting. The vacancy caused some to joke that the FACE staff were "taking a nap." Several parents charged that while legitimate parent critics of the Longest School Day were forced to get in line at six a.m., FACE staff held places in line for parents (and others) who were coming late to speak on behalf of the Mayor's proposal to lengthen the school day. The "Chief Officer" of FACE, Jamiko Rose, had announced her resignation a week before the Board meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."CPS doesn't even have the funds for a quality 7.5 hour school day," Biggs said. "Why can't we (the parents) be a part of the solution?"

The Board of Education is projecting another "$700 million budget deficit" for the next school year, according to a report by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley during the meeting and a Power Point outlining the CPS version of its finances. CBS News reported that the "deficit" will supposedly balloon into a $1 billion in two years when additional teacher pension payments are due. The Board has been consistent in scaring the public about huge deficits that demand cutting pensions, teacher salaries and jobs and other sectors not politically connected to the top — only to suddenly find a balanced budget and more money to implement its privatization agenda while still maintaining that its latest "deficit" is real. According to the Board's most recent audited financial statements, the Board ended the fiscal 2011 school year with the largest surplus (called "Fund Balance") in its history — $536 million! At the beginning of the Fiscal 2011 school year, then CEO Ron Huberman had told the public and state officials that the Board was facing a "deficit" of "almost one billion dollars."

After the parents spoke out against the 7.5 hour school day, the Board then asked several parents who were in favor of the longer school day to speak.

Interestingly enough, this group didn't appear so adamant in supporting adding a whopping 90 more minutes to each school day, plus two more weeks.

The first speaker, Anna Klocek from Farnsworth, tore up her speech in front of the Board members, saying how can you implement such a longer day being millions in debt. She also said there are significant concerns which the parents who spoke before against the 7.5 hour raised.

Juanita Torres from Saucedo did make the case for a longer school day because more learning time will help her children. She did not say, however, if a 7.5 hour day is necessary.

But Wah Go, the last speaker on this topic, supposedly in favor of 7.5 hours though he too never mentioned this number, had visions of paid preachers and protesters dancing in many of the reporters' heads. Go told the Board members that they are doing a great job, the new mayor is doing the right thing cleaning up the previous mess, and a longer day will "improve the strength of the learning environment."

Reporters like Rosalind Rossi from the Sun Times asked him after his speech if someone asked him to come to the Board meeting to speak because it did not sound like he really understood the issue. The Chicago Tribune reporter asked if Stand for Children — the astro-turf corporate funded group that supports the Board's decisions to close and privatize schools against the wishes of the communities — had asked him to come speak.

Go said no, that he was just a very involved parent, a retired military officer who had a child attend Phoenix Military Academy. A Stand for Children representative was standing nearby and listening to Go's statements to the media.


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