November 14, 2007 dispute over military recruiter access policy... U.S. Marines occupy Chicago Board of Education meeting?

“The Marines have landed.”

Someone — probably one of the CPS security guards — was saying that as people arrived at the November 14, 2007, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The sight that greeted people who pushed through one of the two doors into the fifth floor chambers of the Chicago Board of Education at 125 S. Clark St. a few minutes before the Board meeting was supposed to begin that morning was unprecedented.

There were military people in front of both doors and more than a squad standing along the walls of the meeting room. In order to get in the door, you had to say “Excuse me” to a uniformed soldier. Inside, a squad of Marines was standing — all in uniform — along the walls at the side and back of the meeting room. One soldier (U.S. Army) in desert combat fatigues and desert boots was standing in the group of Marines. There were uniformed soldiers or Marines at both entrances.

This wasn’t Baghdad, and the Chicago Board of Education wasn’t an Iraqi family whose house was being searched for insurgents. This was Chicago, and one of the generally boring public meetings of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education.

The “Who, What, When, and Where” were already apparent: A large number of soldiers and Marines at a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The only question left was “Why?”

It had to do with the agenda for that day’s Board meeting, and is possibly all based on a misunderstanding because of the secretive ways of the Chicago Board of Education under Mayor Richard M. Daley. CPS actually publishes two agendas prior to each monthly meeting: a short one (e-mailed to everyone who requests it) and a longer one (which has to be picked up). Anyone who had read the agenda of the meeting, a summary of which had been distributed as per the Open Meetings Act two days earlier, knew that there was one item on that agenda the might have caused some interest on the part of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines — “Adopt a New Policy on Recruiter Access”.

The proposed policy, was signed by CEO Arne Duncan and approved by the Board’s General Counsel, Patrick Rocks, was a change in the way military, college, professional, and other recruiters would do business with the Board of Education and the city’s 100 public high schools. Most people who had received the “agenda” for that Board of Education meeting on line or by e-mail, however, would not have know what the policy contained. The Board only releases the title of each item of business in the agenda that is available on line or by fax prior to the meeting. The Agenda distributed to the public was three pages long and only included the title of each proposal (called “Board Reports” in the jargon of CPS). The full agenda (which you have to go to 125 S. Clark St. to get before the Board meetings) is usually more than 200 pages long.

The “New Policy on Recruiter Access” had been developed as a result of growing parental and civic pressure on CPS to stop allowing military recruiters what amounted in some schools to unlimited access to Chicago high school juniors and seniors. The New Policy limited all recruiters’ access to students to times and locations approved by the principal of a school. It also limited recruiter access to students’ personal information, which had been made explicitly available to military recruiters under a little known provision of the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” act in 2002. But why all the Marines at the November meeting of the Chicago Board of Education? It was definitely a first. Military presence at prior Board meetings had consisted of a couple of kids in their ROTC uniforms, once or twice with adult military officers. Now and then CPS has a uniformed high school student sitting up front as “shadow Board member” (the student who gets to sit beside the Board president for a meeting). But never had there been more than a dozen uniformed military people standing and sitting around at a Board meeting — with at least five of them signed up to speak. And since the majority of those in uniform standing around the Board meeting November 14 were on active duty, it was also clear that somebody had ordered them to be there. What happened once the Board meeting began was just as unusual.

The first speaker, recognized under what people call the Board’s “VIP Rule,” was alderman James Balcer. Balcer, alderman of the legendary 11th Ward (Bridgeport), has long made the fact that he is a Marine veteran of Vietnam a staple of his political career. He’s proud of having been a Marine and active in Marine alumni activities. At the Board of Education meeting, Balcer spoke briefly about how important it was for him to have joined the Marines out of high school, served in Vietnam, and have had Marines in his resume. A few minutes after Balcer spoke, a young woman named Patricia McCann rose to speak. On the sign in sheet she had identified herself as being with Iraq Veterans Against War (IVAW). McCann was accompanied by three people from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker organization that has been organizing much of the “Opt Out” and “Counter Recruitment” activities in Chicago and elsewhere in the country as part of a local group called the “Coalition Against Militarization of Schools.”

McCann was not a Quaker. She had been a soldier. On November 14, unlike most of her military counterparts at the Board meeting, she was not wearing her uniform. She identified herself as an Iraq War veteran and told the Board she had served in the Army in Baghdad. She then proceeded to tell the Board that military recruiters often provide high school students with inaccurate information, and that she herself had been paid to wear her uniform while in high school to talk other students into enlisting in the military. Specifically, McCann said that when she was 17 years old and in high school JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), she was paid $100 per day to wear her uniform in school and to persuade other high school students to join the Army. She said that she had been misled about the military by the recruiters and her JROTC instructors and that she had also been lied to about the education benefits that she would receive as a result of her service.

McCann ended her remarks to the Board in support of the new policy on recruiting. At least active duty military personnel had signed up to speak in support of making sure that recruiters had access to student information. They were listed, as was McCann, on the “Public Participation November 14, 2007” list distributed during the meeting. The speakers who were listed to speak after McCann were:

Michael Doyle, United States Marine Corps.

Aaron Ferrer, Illinois Army National Guard.

Richard Love, Illinois Army National Guard.

Julius Penn, Illinois Army National Guard.

Brian Robinson, Captain, United States Marine Corps.

All had departed by the time McCann was finished with her remarks and with a brief press conference held outside the Board chambers.

A sixth individual, David Askew, was also signed up to speak on the subject of “Military Access — Support.” Askew identified himself as a CPS graduate and a lawyer who had served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG, military law) in the Navy. Only Askew, McCann and Balcer spoke November 14 on the recruiting question.

After McCann spoke, she went out into the hallway behind the Board chambers to speak to the press. A brief story on her remarks was carried on WBBM radio, along with a comment from an unnamed CPS official that she would not be given access to schools because she was not recruiting for anything. By the time McCann had finished her mini-press conference, all of the uniformed military people who had been so visible an hour earlier were gone. If they had been ordered to attend the Board meeting, in the face of one woman’s testimony, as several people remarked to me, they had just been ordered to depart (one commentator called it a “retreat”). The military recruiting commands later told Substance that the soldiers and Marines at the Board meeting had been ordered to be there. Spokesmen for the both the Army and Marines said the uniformed military people had left when they were informed that the agenda item was not going to be voted on that day and had been tabled until the December 19 Board meeting. Lt. Col. Brian Redmon, Commander of the Recruiting Batallion, Illinois National Guard provided part of the answer. “Alderman Balcer had spoken and the issue [we were concerned about] was tabled,” Redmon said. “I got word that it was tabled.” Board spokesman Michael Vaughn said that the issue had been tabled and was expected to come back to the Board at its regular meeting on December 19. If there are two “sides” to the question on recruiting and counter recruiting access to Chicago high schools, they are probably being represented at this point by AFSC and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), on the one “side,” and the military recruiters and their political supporters (including Alderman Balcer) on the other “side.” By the week after November 14, both sides seemed to be saying that the “New Policy on Recruiter Access” was OK with them. In response to e-mail questions, Major Lance Jacola, the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Recruiting station in Chicago, provided additional information. “Our relationship with Chicago Public Schools has been, and continues to be strong,” Jacola wrote. “ Last week, when we heard that there would be a vote regarding a new policy dealing with recruiter access, we had several questions. My concern was that the Board would vote on the issue before we had a chance to engage them with our concerns and points of view. “Since the board meeting, I have had the opportunity to review the proposed policy and I believe that it is a good idea to have a standardized policy throughout Chicago Public Schools. We will continue to work with the Board of Education and the Office of High Schools and High School Programs to ensure that the students are afforded the knowledge to make well informed decisions regarding their career and educational opportunities.” Major Jacola also identified the 14 Marines, including himself, who had been present at the Board meeting.

Jacola confirmed that all 14 Marines had been on active duty and were authorized to be present at the school board meeting that day. He said that Alderman Balcer had asked for their support, and that he had authorized the presence. He said that after Ald. Balcer spoke, they were told that the item would be deferred, and so he told the men to return to their normal duties.

Patricia McCann said that she will be working to inform high school students about military recruiting policies and practices. AFSC’s Darlene Gramigna, who has been coordinating the AFSC work on counter-recruiting, said that, like the Marines, AFSC staff in Chicago don’t have a major problem with the proposed policy. She noted that they might have liked more, but “Chicago is not San Francisco or Seattle, and we can work within this policy.”

The strange activities on the morning of November 14 are partly the responsibility of Mayor Richard M. Daley. Since 1995, Daley has had the legal power to appoint the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education and the school system’s Chief Executive Officer (currently, CEO Arne Duncan).

Since the late 1990s, Daley has been slowly promoting the expansion not only of the JROTC program in Chicago’s public schools (including middle schools, down to seventh graders), but has also championed the creation of five (soon to be six) military high schools. Daley has long been touchy about criticism of his expansion of the military programs in Chicago’s public schools. On October 15, 2007, at a commissioning ceremony that I covered a month before the November 14 Board meeting, Daley spoke at the dedication of the “Marine Military Academy.” The Marine Military Academy, a Chicago public high school, was established this year at the former Grant Elementary School at 145 S. Campbell. It had been approved by a vote of the Chicago Board of Education last year. The Grant school building is adjacent to the now vacant land that once was the site of the Rockwell Garden public housing project. The Marine Military Academy is the first of its kind in the United States.

During his remarks at the Marine Military Academy dedication, Daley lashed out at anti-war protesters who had become more and more vocal in their criticism of his military programs in the public schools. Calling the protesters “Naysayers,” Daley praised the military, claiming that the military high schools were college prep high schools, and that they also provided the opportunity for high school students to learn about “service.” Daley was joined in his remarks by Congressman Rahm Emmanuel (who bragged that he had gotten an earmark of a half million dollars for the Marine high school). CEO Arne Duncan, who has long maintained that the city’s military high schools are simply another “choice” option for families wanting “college prep” curriculum, also spoke at the October 15 event.

There are currently five military high schools in the Chicago Public School system: Bronzeville Military Academy High School (Army, 3519 S. Giles); Carver Military Academy High School (Army, 13100 S. Doty); Marine Military Academy Math Science High School (Marines, at 145 S. Campbell); Phoenix Military Academy High School (Army, at 145 S. Campbell); and the Rickover Naval Academy (Navy, inside Senn High School at 5900 N. Glenwood). The Army JROTC program also has four “small schools” within other high schools and 27 high school JROTC programs. The Marine JROTC program has programs at two high schools, but no small schools at this time.

The Navy JROTC program also has two “small schools” within other high schools and two high school JROTC programs.

The Air Force JROTC program currently exists at one Chicago high school, although the Board of Education recently approved the creation of an “Air Force” high school at a site that has yet to be formally selected.

According to the CPS Military Schools and JROTC website, Chicago “has the largest JROTC program in the country in number of cadets and total programs.” The Chicago program has recently been designated as a separate “area” and its commander, Rick Mills, has at various times during the past five years held the title “Area Instructional Officer” (AIO) within the CPS hierarchy. [Currently, CPS divides the entire city into 24 or 25 “areas,” each under an AIO. In past years (before the mayor was given control over the schools system) the “areas” were called sub-districts and the people in charge of each sub-district were usually called “district superintendents.”] Whether the New Policy on Recruiting returns to the Chicago Board of Education’s December 19 meeting will not be known until the Board makes its December agenda available to the public on December 17. The actual text of the proposed policy won’t be in the public agenda, only the title of the action. Members of the Coalition Against Militarization of the Schools have promised to return to the Chicago Board of Education on December 19. Whether the Marines will land again has yet to be announced. 


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