Chicago schools CEO Ron Huberman tries to choke off teacher First Amendment rights 29 years after Substance first won federal court case upholding sale of newspaper in schools by teachers

Proving once again that all tyrants will try anything, Chicago Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Ron Huberman is attempting to prevent public school teachers and other workers from distributing literature that he doesn't approve, or literature which is critical of his subordinate, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart.

According to a November 20, 2009, memo distributed to all staff in the city's more than 600 public schools, Huberman claims that it is a violation of CPS rules for teachers to distribute literature to their colleagues in the schools.

Huberman's memo reads as follows (complete text):


To: All Administrators

From: Ron Huberman

Date: November 20, 2009

RE: Campaign Activity and Use of CPS Network, and Other Resources

The Board of Education has received complaints regarding the use of Chicago Public School electronic mail system and other resources by candidates or caucuses in the upcoming Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Local 1 election of officers.

The Board’s computer network and other resources should not be used by any candidate or caucus. Use of CPS network for non-Board business violates the Board’s Acceptable Use of the CPS Network Policy. Additionally, campaign activity in the school during school hours violates other Board Rules and Policies.

The collective bargaining agreement states, “the Board recognizes the CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION, LOCAL No. 1, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, AFL-CIO, as the sole and exclusive bargaining representative of all employees in the titles or categories of elementary and secondary teachers,…and other teachers and related services personnel as defined in Appendix D…” (Article 1-1)

Furthermore, Articles 1-15 and 1-16 allow for only official information from the CTU to be posted on bulletin board space that has been designated for such by the school administration. Material placed in staff mailboxes “shall be restricted to official material supplied by the UNION.” No campaign related material from any source or any candidate should be posted, faxed, duplicated or distributed to school staff. The CPS mail (pony) distribution system cannot be used to ship campaign literature to other schools.

Staff members who violate Board policy by engaging in political campaigning at schools or Board offices should be subject to discipline under the Employee Discipline and Due Process Policy. If you have any questions, please contact Rachel G. Resnick, Labor Relations Officer at 553-3578.

Huberman is basically trying to return the Chicago public schools to a situation that existed more than 40 years ago, and he is claiming that he has the power to do so both under Board of Education rules and according to the Chicago Teachers Union contract.

Actually, the opposite is the case, as Substance proved nearly 30 years ago in a landmark federal court case upholding the First Amendment rights of teachers and others working in Chicago's schools.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman (above center, red tie) has issued a directive banning the distribution of literature by teachers in Chicago's public schools. Despite the fact that the ban is in violation of teacher rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, CPS Attorney Patrick Rocks, above left, has stated that the ban is legal. Rocks has devoted much of his career supporting similar approaches to citizens' rights, so the issue only came as a surprise because in May 1980, Substance and George Schmidt won a federal court case which ruled that the Chicago Board of Education could not subject teacher publications to the violations of free speech rights that Huberman is trying to impose in 2009. Critics of Board and Chicago Teachers Union policy suspect that Huberman is working in collusion with Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart to undermine the Constitutional rights of Chicago teachers across the city's school system in the same way she had attempted to undermine them through her use of executive edicts in the CTU itself. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. During the hectic years after CPS suffered its last "financial crisis" and 8,000 teachers and other school workers lost their jobs because of Wall Street manipulation of CPS finances, Substance staff members, most of whom were substitute teachers, were threatened or, in more than one case, arrested for the simple act of selling Substance in schools where they were working during their lunch hours or other non-teaching periods. The Board of Education claimed it had the legal right under a Board Rule to ban the sale or distribution of materials which did not have prior approval of the General Superintendent of Schools. Substitutes United for Better Schools (S.U.B.S.) sued the Board under the First Amendment in federal court. The final decision in the case, which became know as Substitutes United for Better Schools etc., et al, Plaintiffs v. Catherine Rother etc et al, Defendants (No 80 C 501) was decided on May 13, 1980. The case was reported in the Federal District Court reports at 406 F Supp 1017. The judge ruled that the First Amendment protected the rights of teachers in Chicago to sell Substance in the Chicago public schools and overturned the power of the Superintendent of Schools (currently the "CEO") to ban the sale and distribution of literature by teachers in the city's public schools. "Substitutes United for Better Schools is an organization of teachers in the Chicago public school system which, among other things, publishes a newspaper, Substance," the court wrote in its final decision. "This organization and its president, George Schmidt, brought this action claiming that defendants have interfered with distribution of the newspaper within the schools..." The judge's decision went on to summarize the attempts by the Chicago Board of Education to evade its obligations under the First Amendment.

The key portion of the 1980 decision reads as follows:

"It is important to emphasize what this case does not involve. First, plaintiffs are not outsiders seeking to promote their cause within the school. Second, plaintiffs are not attempting to sell anything other than information itself. In such circumstances, the court cannot accept defendants' [i.e., Chicago Board of Education] argument that prohibiting the sale of plaintiffs' newspaper is merely regulation of commercial activity. The court concludes that no distinction can be drawn between plaintiffs' requesting people to take a copy of a newspaper, and requesting them to buy a copy. Both are protected first amendment activities..." (476 F Supp at 1020).

Substance has left messages at the CPS Law Department and at the Office of Employee Relations, which has been asked to receive complaints about this. As of publication time for this report, neither has responded. Since the CPS Office of Communications and CEO Ron Huberman refuse to respond to any questions from Substance, Substance reporters have been directed to ask their questions to those implementing decisions or promulgating rules... 

Final edited version of this article posted at November 25, 2009, 5:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


November 25, 2009 at 9:36 PM

By: kugler

Violation fo Artilce 2.1


The notice itself is a violation of our rights to work free of harassment due to our union activities. The election of union officers, the sharing and distributing of literature is a union activity not personal or political. It is directly related to our union activities as union members.

Article 2-1 of our union contract.Premeditated Discriminatory Practices Against Protected Union Activities. Violation of Article 2-1. In accordance with the laws of the United States and State of Illinois and the established policies and practices of the BOARD and the UNION, there shall be no discrimination against any teacher or other bargaining unit member on the basis of race, creed, color, age, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation or membership or participation in, or association with the activities of, the UNION. The BOARD and the UNION shall work affirmatively to the end that each student may have the educational advantage of an integrated school.

November 25, 2009 at 11:31 PM

By: Margaret

History repeats itself

I have a hard time believing that CPS is going here again. Several groups have won lawsuits around the issue of distributing literature (anti-war groups, women's rights groups, Lesbian and Gay Rights Groups, in addition to Substance). In very few cases, has CPS come out the victor so they should learn from experience. Marilyn is once again showing her true colors of supporting CPS administrators over teachers.

November 26, 2009 at 5:46 AM

By: Garth


Both my email and physical school mailbox are constantly barraged by a steady stream of advertising from various educational entrepreneurs who want me to spend large sums of money on professional development activities. I wonder if the board is receiving money for selling our contact information?

November 26, 2009 at 7:45 PM

By: Danny

Campaign activities

Ronnie H is rather selective in quoting from the Contract.

He writes: "Material placed in staff mailboxes 'shall be restricted to official material supplied by the UNION.'” But that's not the end of the clause. Before the period, is the phrase "or materials signed by the school delegate."

In the past, the election rules have stated that the school delegate is to distribute all campaign literature delivered to him or her from official candidates/slates.

Will that continue to be in the rules for the coming election?

November 27, 2009 at 2:51 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Election rules to come from Rules-Election Committee

The rules for the 2010 CTU election will be voted on by the House of Delegates, as has been done, at the January 2010 meeting. Except for certain matters set by the Constitution and By-Laws (election date: third Friday in May; composition of the executive board's functional groups and number of candidates) almost everything of importance has to be approved in January at the House of Delegates meeting.

Presently, Marilyn Stewart's UPC people have all but two seats on the Rules Elections Committee (Lou Pyster and Jesse Sharkey).

If people recall, four years ago Stewart purged the committees, dumping everyone who wasn't already in the United Progressive Caucus. Basically, the Rules committee is a bunch of Marilyn Stewart clones. Although Stewart got away with dumping everyone who wasn't part of her group from all the committees, the most important one for the next eight months if Rules-Elections.

It would be a very good idea if people made a major fight to get more people on that committee, while preparing for a similar fight over every paragraph in the proposed rules. Stewart has already proved she will do anything and say anything and spend everything to remain in power.

What's to stop her, not that she also has the full support from Ron Huberman, and the slates haven't even been finalized yet? Back in 2001, Paul Vallas didn't indicated his support for Tom Reece until April (in that famous Crain's Chicago Business article I had so much fun with).

The promulgation of these "Board" rules regarding communications among union members by Huberman shows that he has already decided to do everything he can to make sure his buddy Marilyn Stewart is re-elected in May 2010. This is just the beginning.

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