Sparks fly at Chicago Board of Education between presidents

[This article was originally published on June 11 on Jim Vail's site, Second City Teachers. We're also publishing a comment posted on the article by Troy LaRaviere.]

Sparks were flying at the May 24 Chicago Board of Education Meeting after the Board President threw out the leader of the Principals.

“Good morning beautiful people,” Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association said in his opening statement. “I’m here because of a deep and profound incompetence and corruption.”

“Troy I ask that you not make defamatory statements,” quickly interjected Chicago Board of Education President Miguel Del Valle.

Three security guards then grabbed LaRaviere and took him from the mic, a scene reminiscent of the fight against school closings when emotions ran high.

LaRaviere was there to defend Abdul Muhammad and speak out about false claims that led to his removal as principal from Lindblom High School last year.

The fight to defend Muhammad who was removed due to a Chicago Public Schools “investigation that substantiated findings” has turned into a power struggle between two formidable foes.

Troy LaRaviere made his name during the dark days of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his drive to privatize the public schools by standing up at a time when administrators were afraid to say anything. He called out Rahm personally and documented how his claims that charter schools would be better were false.

He was so good that CPS fired him. However, he was able to get elected as the president of the Principals Association. Many administrators were proud that they had a leader who finally stood up to the powers that be that were hell bent on destroying the schools and micromanaging principals.

He is leading a drive for the principals to form their own union so that they have rights and cannot be fired without due process.

His fight today is focused on defending African-American male principals who he says have been unfairly terminated. He told the Board of Ed in his opening statement that he wanted to speak on behalf of Lindblom’s Abdul Muhammad and Dunbar’s Gerald Morrow, both African American principals fired because of misconduct.

But LaRavier focused his speech on Muhammad.

In addition to a student protest at Lindblom High School to reinstate a popular assistant principal he had fired, the former principal spoke out at a press conference at St. Sabina Church organized by Father Michael Pfleger, a popular activist against violence in the city.

Father Pfleger, who was accused of sexual misconduct but found not guilty, had earlier supported Mayor Richard Daley’s Renaissance 2010 plan to close 100 schools and open new ones.

Abdul Muhammad is a member of the Nation of Islam, where Malcom X once was associated with. They are known to be radical fighters and snazzy dressers, carrying the Koran in one hand under a sparkling red bow tie.

On the other side of this fight is the education leadership. Lindblom Math and Science Academy is a selective enrollment high school on the South Side and considered a gem to compete with the numerous North Side selective enrollment schools. CPS Chief Pedro Martinez and Troy LaRavier, as well as other network brass have children who attend Lindblom.

Whereas other battles to remove principals such as the one at Jones College Prep continue, this action to remove Muhammad came fast and quick like lightning.

The question is what was the real reason behind the abrupt firing of Muhammad.

Staff at Lindblom had testified about financial irregularities and other problems at the school under Muhammad’s leadership. Students protested his abrupt firing of long-time Assistant Principal Karen Fitzpatrick-Carpenter last August by staging a walk out. However, Muhammad’s action was entirely in his right as any new administration has the power to hire their own staff to work with.

But according to Lindblom staff who did not want to be named, Principal Muhammad created a lot of turmoil in the school by failing to address problems and generating extra positions so that these new hires would be beholden to him. The new teacher assistants he hired would refuse to do certain jobs in their cluster program, which upset a lot of teachers and staff. There were also anti-disability slurs made that were not addressed.

They say he did not manage the school well, and he was planning to clean house by removing teachers and replacing them with his own people. This has happened at many schools when a new principal comes in, and despite union protections, teachers have been forced by hook or crook to leave, with new staff obedient to the new leader.

But the fight to bring back Muhammad and championed by LaRaviere continues.

LaRaviere’s confrontation with Del Valle at the May Board of Ed meeting exploded because the fiery principal activist is hitting back hard against the whistleblowers who testified against Muhammad. He claimed at the board meeting that the athletic director had failed to turn in financial reports and ran unauthorized practices that students had to pay for.

“These are accusations, Troy,” said Del Valle, interrupting him during his speech and then shutting off his mic before ordering security to escort him out. “I didn’t want to have to do this Troy. You leave me no choice. You just referred to our staff as corrupt. You defamed them.”

LaRavier, not to be intimidated, upped his ante by continuing to speak defiantly, saying it was not defamation, which is false. His accusations were proven with documents.

Muhammad’s supporters called the Board’s outster of Muhammad a ‘witch hunt,’ while LaRavier is using his own intimidating tactics. Muhammad supporters said emails were sent out encouraging parents to testify against certain teachers in the public ‘lynching’ of Muhammad, while LaRavier wants the teachers who testified against Muhammad ‘terminated.’

In addition to the racial aspect of targeting black male administrators, there is also talk of Islamophobia because of Mohammad’s ties to the Nation of Islam.

Those in the middle who work at the school say they just want the acrimony to end and get on with educating the students without all the turmoil. But problems continue. “It’s definitely not over.”

Lindblom was once a neighborhood school until Ren 2010 made it a ‘performance school’ in which it became a selective enrollment high school in Englewood. The school has an advisory local school council (ALSC) meaning they do not have ultimate say in the hiring and firing of a principal. The CPS privatization plan that began with Ren2010 focused on destroying the democratic control of the schools that elect LSC members to oversee the school.

Some staff say they were also disappointed the Chicago Teachers Union didn’t play a bigger role in this fight. The union may be loath to take on LaRaviere who is firing from all cylinders.

LaRaviere's June 12, 2023, comment:

Most of this article is well written and thoughtful. However, it has two serious accuracy issues. First, no one called for the teachers to be fired "because they testified." That is a false statement. We called on the teachers to be investigated and fired for giving verifiably false testimony. It is anti-democratic and anti-justice to call for people to be persecuted for testifying. At the same time it is morally reprehensible to submit knowingly false testimony against a fellow human being.

Several instances of their false testimony can be found in this video:

Second, It is not "intimidation" to seek consequences for false witnesses. It is justice. As the record shows, we are calling for those WHO SUBMITTED FALSE TESTIMONY to be terminated. That being the case, what we are doing cannot be labeled "intimidation." We have to ground ourselves in the truth and in the facts and evidence that lay at the foundation of truth. So unless you can cite any facts or evidence to back up the claim that this is intimidation for simply testifying, rather than seeking consequences for those who submitted false testimony, please correct this claim.

Thank you.


June 28, 2023 at 7:06 PM

By: J.S. Whitfield

Board of Education President Miguel del Valle

CPS Board of Education President Miguel del Valle is stepping down ahead of transition to elected school board

By Sarah Macaraeg

Chicago Tribune

Jun 28, 2023

Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle said Wednesday he’s leaving the post this week.

Tapped as president by then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019, del Valle announced at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting that it will be his last. His seat on the board expires Friday.

His departure comes at a time of transition for Chicago Public Schools, not only because a new mayor, Brandon Johnson, took office six weeks ago, but because its Board of Education will be shifting from an appointed to an elected body starting next year.

Johnson has been expected to make his own appointments to serve during the transition period.

In an open letter to the mayor this month, parent organizations and other advocacy groups urged Johnson to be more transparent about his board member appointments than administrations past, including “open solicitation of candidates, transparency around the criteria and qualifications by which candidates are to be selected,” and to describe his vision for the board’s membership.

Johnson released a statement later Wednesday thanking del Valle but giving no indication of who might replace him or when that decision will be made.

Calling del Valle “an unwavering advocate for community schools,” Johnson noted that being Board of Education president “is a taxing positions that is challenging even in the best of times.” But he said del Valle “has navigated numerous challenges with patience and understanding of the passion around public education in our city.”

With CPS facing a $628 million budget shortfall in the 2025-26 school year, the groups beseeched Johnson to prioritize candidates with policy expertise on the ongoing challenges the district faces, who also have direct experience with CPS as parents or alumni.

Del Valle served during a tumultuous time for the district, whose teachers and other staff members went on strike in October 2019, months into his term. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived a few months after that, abruptly shifting the district to remote learning and leading to further strife with the Chicago Teachers Union over pandemic protections.

In his announcement Wednesday, del Valle thanked Lightfoot and other board members with whom he’s served and noted the job has been “quite a challenge, but I feel I’ve been up to the challenge.”

“Today I can honestly say that CPS with its partners — CTU and the principals association and its external partners, community-based organizations and the other sectors — are coming together to ensure that we become stronger, and by that I mean that we better serve our students and their families and our students leave CPS ready for their future,” del Valle said.

He also praised Johnson, a former CTU organizer, saying that in recent conversations, “I‘ve found him to be very collaborative and responsive, and I don’t think anyone can question his commitment and his dedication to the Chicago Public Schools for obvious reasons.”

By the time he was appointed board president, del Valle already had a long background in city and state politics, with much of his focus in the education arena. He was the first Latino in the state Senate, where he headed the Education Committee, and also served on the Illinois Student Assistance Commission and chaired the Illinois P-20 Council, a state education reform group created in 2009. He’s also a CPS alumni, former CPS parent and former board member of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois and the Illinois Federation for Community Schools.

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