David Vitale and Barbara Byrd Bennet are not 'racists...' Their policies just have racist 'outcomes'... On Presidents' Day, the world saw more civic dysfunction from Chicago as CPS excluded hundreds from speaking at the next Board meeting

It's 8:28 a.m. on February 18, 2013, and I just went to the CPS website, Board of Education side ( to check on the on line registration for the public meeting of the Chicago Board of Education for February 27, 2013. The message I got when I got to www/ reads: "All speaker slots filled. We're sorry, but all speaker slots are filled for the net board meeting. Feel free to register as an observer." What this means is that most people who might want to speak at the public meeting of the Board for February 2013 have been shut out already, and the meeting is still more than nine days away. Oh, and in order to get into this particular "Race To The Top" (of the sign in list), you'd have to have had your own computer. Today is President's Day, and the public libraries, where most of the city's poor and working class people go to use computers, are CLOSED.

The members of the Chicago Board of Education (left to right above, four of them) have proclaimed that their new electronic on-line sign in policy for public participation at the Board's lone once-a-month public meeting makes it "easier" for people to register to speak at the Board's meetings, but actually critics who said that the plan was designed to exclude the public were proved right on February 18, when the sign-in was filled before 8:30 a.m. (it began at 8:00 a.m.) and the public libraries were closed for President's Day so poor and working class people were completely excluded from the process. Above, Board members Carlos Azcoitia, Henry Bienen, Jesse Ruiz and David Vitale at the January 23, 2013 meeting of the Board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Chicago Board of Education has been working for ways to manipulate the public discussion of the major issues facing the Chicago Public Schools for more than a year, each manipulation being called some kind of "reform" to "increase transparency." The online registration for the Board meetings, which became the ONLY way to register to speak at a Board meeting in January 2013, has been touted by CPS officials and Board President David Vitale as a nicer thing than the previous method of signing up, which required that people get in line. Because of the competition to sign up to speak, some people were arriving to wait in line as early as 6:00 a.m. (In a couple of cases during the past five or six years, opponents of Renaissance 2010 actually camped out in front of 125 S. Clark St. overnight to be there early to register and tell the Board members what they thought of the latest attacks on the city's real public schools.

Not so this year.

The new registration process caps the number of possible speakers at 60 (there used to be an unlimited number of potential spots to speak) and requires that speakers go on line to register at the new "Board" website:

The Board of Education of the City of Chicago is the only Board in Illinois appointed by a major, and since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took over in May 2011, the Board has devoted millions of dollars and thousands of hours burnishing the mayor's media image, especially making sure that TV images of the city's public schools reflected on the mayor's Hollywood version of reality. One of the sticking points came with the public meetings of the Board, which had traditionally been forums for the, well, public. At any meeting (and I've covered hundreds of them as a reporter over the past couple of decades), the speakers in public participation could generally be divided into a couple of groups:

-- GROUP I, THE THANK YOU PEOPLE. "Thank you" people. There are always a few speakers who wanted to thank the Board for doing something right. These were always a minority, but were there because even the Chicago Board of Education during its most predatious era didn't alienate everyone all the time.

-- GROUP II, THE ANGRY CRITICS. Angry critics. Generally, these were eight the majority of the largest number. Some of these people were from organized opposition groups and some were people who had been stunned by the failure of the Board to do something simple and right. At the January 23, 2013 meeting of the Board, for example, one of the final speakers was a women (affiliated with no protest group) who took the podium to criticize the Board's security and safety plans for Lindblom High School after the speaker's niece had been raped.

-- GROUP III, THE POLITE CRITICS. Polite critics and those trying to bring facts to the Board. Not all the Board's critical speakers were angry -- at least at first. At any Board meeting, a certain number of people would get up and try to point out, seriously and without much fuss, that the Board was doing something wrong, and would the Board please do something right. One of the most persistent groups doing this over the decade came on behalf of Gallistel Elementary School of Chicago's "East Side" (down by Indiana). These parents and teachers (usually with their principal) would come to the Board and point out that the Board was spending millions of dollars on "facilities" activities while ignoring the fact that Callistel children had to try and attend their school scattered over four buildings strung along a stretch roughly half a mile long from South (main building) to North (a bunch of classrooms inside a Catholic school). Usually the polite critics were given the brush off -- under Arne Duncan it was his famous phrase "I'll get back to you on that..." -- and could be seen a few months or a year later, joining Group II (see above, "Angry Critics"). -- GROUP IV, PUBLIC OFFICIALS, ELECTED OFFICIALS, AND UNION LEADERS (until union leaders were demoted to the ranks of Groups II or III). Another group of people speaking at the Board meetings were elected officials, public officials, and, at times, celebrities and public figures. For decades, this group include union officials, aldermen, state reps and senators, and assorted celebrity figures (e.g., Jesse Jackson Sr.) who were allowed to speak at the beginning of the meeting. For decades officers of the Chicago Teachers Union were included in this group, until November 2012, when David Vitale and the Board simply began ignoring them until someone made a fuss. -- GROUP V. Cranks and people with Hobby Horses. Regular Board beat reporters also got to know the handful of cranks and people with special projects who would sign up regularly to speak and get themselves on TV. These were sometimes cranks and crackpots, or simply those riding a particular issue for decades or even generations. Board member Mahalia Hines (above during the January 23, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education) routinely proclaims that people who criticize the Board's privatization and "accountability" policies are probably not interested in the children of "her community". Since Hines is African American, her complaints usually mean that her opponents are white racists. Hines herself, however, has voted in favor of every policy foisted on the city's public schools by the man who appointed her, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.-- GROUP VI. Other. There have been, from time to time, a handful of people who simply stood up and said hello and then sat down.

After the agenda of the Emanuel Board of Education became clear in late 2011, the Board became more and more testy with any critics. So, by the beginning of 2013, they came up with a way to sign up a limited number of people using a method that is restricted to the affluent and the middle class and simply throw out the majority of people who might have an issue to bring before the Board. I'm finishing writing this at 8:52 a.m. on February 18, 2013, nine days before the Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to hold its only meeting during February 2013. The sign in to speak to that meeting has been "closed" for at least a half hour as of now, and unlike many people from Chicago, who have to go to a public library to utilize a computer, I can write this from our home/office.

No public library opens until 10:00 most days at the earliest.

But the Chicago Public Libraries are closed today. It's President's Day. So anyone who is too poor to own his own computer has just been frozen out of the official Chicago sign-in process to speak about issues of public concern at the next public meeting of the Board of Education of the third largest public school system in the USA. 


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