Military occupies Chicago Board of Education meeting

Marines and Army line the walls at the Board Meeting.Marines and soldiers, one clearly visible in full combat fatigues, line the walls at the November 14 Chicago Board of Education meeting. (all photos Copyright 2007 by Substance News, Inc.)(CHICAGO) More than a dozen active duty United States Marines and Army formed a perimeter around the meeting room of the Chicago Board of Education prior to the Board’s November 14, 2007, meeting, apparently prepared to raise objections to a Board Report which would restrict military recruiters’ access to Chicago’s high schools.

The soldiers and Marines, who have been confirmed by military officials as members of the armed forces on active duty, were present at the beginning of the meeting, standing along the walls of the meeting room and posted at the two public entrances to the room.

The military people\ remained standing during the early parts of the Board’s meeting, but departed soon after a female Iraq War veteran, Patricia McCann, began speaking describing her experiences with recruiting fraud whil<e she was a high school student and her subsequent treatment while in the Army, both in Iraq, during her term of service, and subsequently.

Those of us who arrived at the Board before the official beginning of the meeting noticed that more than a dozen uniformed Marines and soldiers were standing along the walls inside the Board chambers.

One of them was wearing desert combat fatigues and combat boots.

Another dozen or so Marines (most in uniform) were sitting in the Board chambers near Alderman James Balcer (D-11th Ward, Bridgeport, etc), who sat a few rows behind the Press section.

Seven individuals (including Balcer) were signed up to speak on military recruiting, and five of those identified themselves in the public participation agenda as members of the military (three National Guard and two Marine Corps). There were enough empty seats in the Board chambers for all of the standing Marines (and one Army person) to have seated themselves, so it was clear that they had either chosen to stand deployed around the perimeter of the room (with one at each of the entrances) or had been ordered to do so (remember: these are active duty military people: they are under orders and subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- which is very different from the way the law works for you, me, and Arne Duncan).Alderman BalcerAlderman James Balcer (D-11th War, Bridgeport) was one of seven individuals signed up to speak on behalf of military recruiting.

By 10:30 a.m. on November 14, there were more than 50 people seated in the "holding room" on the 19th floor watching the Board meeting on closed circuit TV, even though many of them were part of groups signed up to speak (the largest I saw was from UNO Charter Schools). Typically, the Chicago Board of Education holds its meetings in a room which is too small for all those who wish to attend, so the remaining people are placed in what has been called the "holding room" on the 19th floor of the same building at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago. The Board meets in a special meeting room on the 5th floor.

The Board’s monthly meetings generally consist of three parts. First, the Board honors various individuals and groups. Second, the Board listens to "Public Participation" from people who wish to bring their concerns democratically before the Board. Each person wishing to participate in public participation signs in between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on the day of the meeting. Their names are then printed in a "Public Participation" list before the Board convenes at approximately 10:30. After public participation ends, the Board convenes its regular meeting, which usually hears executive reports before going into executive session. The Board comes out of executive session to vote on its agenda items (or, in the case of the most controversial one on the November 14 agenda, table them) by dinner time, then adjourns for the month.

Since the Chicago Board of EducatioIraq War veteran Patricia McCannIraq War veteran Patricia McCann spoke out about her experiences with recruiting fraud while she was in high school.n was reorganized in 19995 under the complete control of Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Board has abolished all committees and ended all public meetings except the monthly meeting. For more than eight years, the Board has approved every item on its public agenda – more than 5,000 pieces of business – without discussion or debate. The members of the Board and the school system’s CEO (currently Arne Duncan) are both appointed by the mayor.

Although the opening of the public participation portion of the meeting was again delayed by various honoraria and the usual VIP speaking (Alderman Balcer was placed in front of all the other signed in speakers, as is traditional with the Board when elected officials show up), it had begun by 11:00 (when Board President Rufus Williams called on Ald. Balcer).

Balcer didn't mention any Board Report on recruitment policy in his remarks. He was merely repeating what he has already made clear to the public on hundreds of occasions -- that he feels that his service in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War changed his life for the better, and that he is glad he was recruited.

The regular public participation then began. During that time, I generally try to photograph all of the people speaking and rarely leave the space where photographers are confined.

The fourth or fifth person to speak (Number 5 on the Public Participation Agenda, which is often adjusted during the meeting) was Patricia McCann, who was identified at being with "Iraq Veterans Against War, Coalition Against Militarization of Schools." McCann spoke about how she was recruited while still a student in high school, how she served in Iraq, and her experiences as a woman in the Army and since.

A report on McCann’s comments aired on Chicago’s WBBM "newsradio" station (the local CBS radio station) the day of her comments and covered fairly her public remarks and the comments she made to reporters (from at least five media outlets, including Channel 2 and the Tribune) in back of the Board chambers after she spoke. During both her remarks and press comments she was accompanied by two people from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

But by the time McCann had finished speaking, all of the uniformed military people in the room had left the Board chambers and (apparently) Board headquarters.

And when they were called to speak, they weren't there. Only a young man named David Askew, wearing a suit and introducing himself as an attorney, spoke in favor of military recruiting in the schools (in addition to Balcer). None of the five men identified as Marines and soldiers spoke or was present by the time they were reached on the agenda.

During the time this was taking place, I was photographing the speakers (generally) as I usually do, so I didn't even see the uniformed military people leaving. However, I did see Patrick Rocks, the Board's attorney, and he did not leave his place during that time. Two hours later, he reported that the recruiting policy would not be voted on that day.

A spokesman for the military told me later that the uniformed military people had left when they were informed that the agenda item was not going to be voted on that day. When I asked him how they could know that the item had been tabled, he said he didn't know. (Rocks had placed the item on the agenda, and the item was still on the agenda when I picked up the full agenda on the Sixth Floor early that morning).

After trying to learn why the military people had left so abruptly, I was finally called by Lt. Col. Brian Redmon, Commander of the Recruiting Batallion, Illinois National Guard. My question, left earlier with the Guard’s press office, was why the military people had signed up to speak and then left. "Alderman Balcer had spoken and the issue [we were concerned about] was tabled," Redmon told Substance. "I got word that it was tabled."

The question of who told the military people that the issue had been tabled was not answered.

I'm still reporting what happened and why, and am only sad that I didn't turn from Patricia McCann to see the Marines and soldiers leaving the Board chambers during her powerful remarks (accurately reflected in John Cody's report). The uniformed people were clearly not available to be interviewed by the press by the time McCann completed her mini-press conference behind the Board chambers at about 11:30 a.m. and were nowhere to be found.

At that point, there were still dozens of people up in the "holding room" on the 19th floor, while more than two dozen seats in the main chambers were empty, including all of those that had been occupied by military personnel.

One of the things I'm trying to report is why uniformed active duty military personnel had shown up at a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education in force on November 14, 2007, and why they redeployed out of the Board chambers prior to 11:30 that morning.

All of these questions are still relevant to any complete report (in context) of these matters. Men and women on active duty in the military are not free agents. They go where ordered, they leave when ordered, and they do as ordered. I've gotten some answers from spokesmen for the recruiting people in Illinois, and have received other information from others.

Since we report on a monthly cycle, there is time for me to flesh out this report, and I will. I haven't published the photographs from the Board meeting anywhere yet (originally, I had told some people they would be in a Substance Web special on the Substance website at, but would rather have more of the story sourced before doing that).

I'd be glad to hear from anyone who knows the answer to my three main questions now. Usually, as friends know, I downplay the importance of the "Why" question in the big five for news reports. "If you've got the who, what, when and where you can leave the why to a priest or psychiatrist..."

But in the case of this story, the "Why" is the biggest questions. (That's a deliberate plural).

Why did CPS withdraw a Board Report it had placed on its public agenda and which remained on that agenda the morning of the November 14, 2007, meeting.

Why were more than a dozen active duty Marines and soldiers ordered to attend the November 14, 2007 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education and stand around the perimeter of the meeting room (when seats were available) rather than seating themselves as everyone else does?

Why did all of the uniformed military personnel at the November 14, 2007 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education retreat from the meeting during the remarks of a young woman who said that she had been recruited out of high school into the Army and had served in Iraq during the Iraq War?

I just spent two days reporting what should have been a simple story. Out of context, the story would have been that CPS withdrew a new policy on recruiter access to Chicago high schools and will consider the policy again at its December 19 meeting. But context is everything, and the bland report on Iraq War veteran Patty McCann's comments on WBBM (the Trib and Sun-Times ignored the story completely) only touches what was in play in and around the Board Wednesday.

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