BOARDWATCH: Board of Education fine tunes its police state to suppress critics and criticism... Chicago's school board finally holds its April meeting as mayor's plan to destroy more than 60 public schools nears the finish line ... Vitale and Byrd Bennett gag protesters when 'Time!' is called

Security was tight, and deployed several times against anyone who presented a danger to the Board of Education's official version of reality on April 24, 2013. CPS is especially concerned that TV news will get information exposing the lies of the present administration of Chicago's vast public schools system and the unprecedented drive, on orders of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to close more schools than have ever been closed in any city in the USA in history. Emanuel's approach to reality, which proved successful during his telegenic drive for the mayor's office in 2010 and 2011, has been scripted carefully with Hollywood intensity. But since his school board announced his final bit list of schools to be closed in May 2013, the opposition has continued to escalate involving thousands of parents, teachers, students, children, and even members of the U.S. Congress.

Barbara Byrd Bennett, currently "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, continued to pursue the destruction of more than 60 of the city's public schools, with her presentation to the April 24, 2013 meeting of the school board (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.That does not mean that the Chicago Board of Education will ignore the second year of the mayor's drive to oversimplify both the problems of the nation's third largest school system or the solutions. Instead, the evidence becomes clear that the Emanuel administration is trying to operate in Chicago as if it were scripting from a local version of the "West Wing," with Rahm as the star center of a star studded cast that doesn't include democracy or the democratic desires of the people of Chicago.

Anyone who believed that the six remaining members of Rahm Emanuel's appointed Board of Education were going to reduce the number of schools on the 2013 Hit List should have attended the April 24, 2013 meeting of the school board. Democracy was the last thing on the agenda of the appointed leaders of the schools of the third largest city in the USA. Watched closely, the Chicago Board of Education's members were making it clear that they intend to vote to close the 54 schools on their Hit List when they meet again on May 22. All of the hearings, beginning in November 2012 with the "Commission," and all the outpourings against the plans from more than 25,000 people against the closings were not merely "falling on deaf ears," but worse: The hearings and public events sponsored by public bodies over the course of the six months were designed to help the plutocrats and their servants to refine their talking points and present the media spin on what they were doing as coherently as is possible when defending an incoherent and vicious use of public power. Although most parents, teachers and students managed to thwart the CPS leaders who tried to herd them into "focus groups" financed by Wal Mart money, the virtually unanimous opposition to the mayor's plans became clear even in a town where the media are utilized by the mayor as stenographers for his carefully crafted scripts.

By the April 24, 2013 meeting of the school board, it was clear that the officials of Chicago Public Schools and the six members of the Rahm Emanuel Board of Education would turn the city's largest public body into a police state if they had to. Their clearest objective currently is to keep dissent from showing up on the TV broadcasts of Board meetings. One way of looking at the situation by April 24 was that CPS would henceforth stand for "Chicago Police State."

Security grabbed the microphone from retired teacher Bonita Robinson while Robinson was speaking about the fact that the Board's actions are a continuation of the "Miseducation of the Negro" first reported in the histories published by Carter G. Woodson. Robinson also compared what the Chicago Board of Education is doing to the infamous "Tuskeegee Syphllis Experiment. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Hovering over the monthly school board meeting, but only present briefly at one small point, was the power of Chicago's current mayor, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel pefers to operate behind the scenes and through proxies, rarely facing his critics. The only glimpse of Emanuel's power came when the Board of Education's Director of Budget, Ginger Ostro, presented the surrender of the Board's planning powers to the "Public Building Commission." Although the Board of Education's media people have been claiming that the closing of a massive number of schools would save money, the facts had already become clear before the Board met on April 24. Ostro's report on how the Board will equip the receiving schools when the closing are implemented indicated hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs. But CPS has already surrendered its power and right to handle its own future facilities planning by turning over the work to the "Public Building Commission" -- which is chaired by Rahm Emanuel.

Queen Sister was the final speaker before the Board members retreated to hear the scripted talking points and answers that they would need for the further pursuit of the closings. Here remarks were interrupted by security, and then CPS went into a lengthy explanation from the latest head of special education on how every child in need of specialized services would be taken care of. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Despite the work the Board has been putting in to gag the public, the outpouring of protest against the lies and policies of the Board of Education was increasing.

The strangulation of the process of democracy under the new Board of Education, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011, has been continuous, alongside the propaganda that pours out daily from the multi-million dollar CPS "Office of Communications."

The Board has adopted policies which make it more and more difficult for poor and working class people to bring their problems before the Board's public meetings. The Board of Education established a new process for the public to register to speak at the Board's meetings has been restricted since January 2013. On the Monday ten days before the Board meeting, 60 members of the "public" are permitted to try, in a kind of Race To The Top, to register for one of the 60 slots to speak. Since February, those slots have been filled by a half hour into the registration time. CPS now prohibits most working class and poor people from speaking at Board meetings, first by restricting those who can speak to those who can get to a computer during the brief period of registration. After describing in detail the many ways in which CPS has lied about the school closing claims it has been making, Jennifer Biggs (above) of the Raise Your Hand Coalition became the first of several critics of the Board policies to be surrounded by Board security staff and forced away from the podium. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Then, those who protest are surrounded by security staff and marched away from the podium if they object to the condescending two minute rule set by the unelected members of the Board. By the time the Board meeting began, once again with a lengthy report from Barbara Byrd Bennett, the Board's security details were already busy. They remained so during the meeting, with David Vitale siccing security on five people who insisted on speaking after their mandatory two minutes had supposedly ended. The suppression of dissent by CPS security had begun before the meeting was called to order. It continued during the meeting itself. The first victim of the latest security suppression was Mila Cohen, whose school, Courtney, was never on the closing list, but is going to be destroyed by the closings. Standing with her child in her arms, Cohen outlined how the closing of Stockton and the combination of Stockton with Courtney would undermine successful programs at both schools. She also stated that parents from Courtney suspected that the plan was to make the Courtney site, which is in the Lincoln Square area on the north side, available to developers. She was completing her remarks when the CPS secretary, Estella Beltran, called time and security staff pulled the microphone away from her. Courtney Elementary School parent Mila Cohen described how the closings would affect Courtney, which wasn't on any closing list but will now be closed due to the complexities of the CPS plan. She stood with her baby demanding to know why CPS was attacking Courtney until TIME! was called and security ended her remarks.The second victim of the security suppression process inside the Board meeting was the "Raise Your Hand Coalition," which has been researching and exposing the lies of each new rendition of the CPS logics for school closings. Over the months since CPS got an exemption from the law requiring it to present the closing list as of December 1, 2012, Raise Your Hand has taken apart each claim made by Barabra Byrd Bennett and CPS officials. The speaker from Raise Your Hand on April 24, 2013 was Jennifer Biggs. She had almost finished her remarks when "Time!" was called. When she tried to complete her remarks, Biggs was surrounded by burly CPS security and hustled away from the podium after the microphone was blocked.

Biggs was not the last person to be stopped by security on orders from David Vitale. The next came when retired teacher Bonita Robinson tried to go over the historical context of the present move by the school board to close more schools than at any time in any city in the USA. Robinson placed the current attack on the city's public schools in the context of history, citing Carter G. Woodson's books on the attacks on the education of black people in the USA.

While the members of the Board almost cooed their tender approval for the speakers from charter schools and Stand for Children who announced their support for the Board's actions, the treatment by the Board members for those who continued voicing the opposition of the majority of Chicagoans to the mayor's latest plan was almost palpable.

The fourth speaker to get the security treatment was long time Austin community activist Dwayne Truss, a member of the "Community Action Council" (CAC) that had, ironically, been established by the Emanuel regime. Truss noted the extreme prejudice which the hit list continued to show the schools of the city's West Side, where he had been organizing protests for several years.

Dwayne Truss began gathering his papers as CPS officials ordered secuerity (obscured behind Jackson Potter in the photo above) to stop Truss's remarks when "Time!" was called. To the left in the above photograph is the CPS Chief Transition Officer Todd Babbitz, who was brought into CPS from an outside consulting firm in the summer of 2012. Babbitz has been in charge of the CPS Hit List preparations. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Before Truss had completed his statement, security was deployed and the microphone covered so Truss could not longer address the Board after his two minutes were announced as "up." Several observers noted that the Board members were playing the threadbare game of "good kid/bad kid" with the speakers. A handful of speakers had signed up to praise the Board and promote the charter schools, which continue to expand despite Barbara Byrd Bennett's claim that charter schools won't be the recipients of students from closed schools disrupted by the Board policies (as they have every year in the past).

A spokesman for the well-funded Astroturf group "Stand for Children" claimed that his organization, which he pointedly claimed did not believe in marching around, had knocked on 11,000 doors to gather support for the CPS closings. Stand for Children was first exposed as an "Astroturf" -- i.e., phony grass roots -- group in 2010 and 2011, when the group got more than $4 million from Chicago billionaires, including the Pritzkers, and then pushed union busting legislation. Their work in Chicago was fully exposed in June 2011 when a video of Stand for Children national chief Jonah Edelman (brother for Chicago's former "New Schools" chief Josh Edelman, whose office had provided massive help to the city's charter during the Arne Duncan years) was videotaped bragging about how "Stand" was able to push through Illinois legislation forcing the Chicago Teachers Union into the "impossible" (they thought) situation where it would take a 75 percent vote to strike.

Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative delivered a detailed criticism of the Board's financial priorities during her remarks at the April 24 meeting. Behind her are some of the more than 100 students who protested earlier. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.A small number of parents took the podium to speak in favor of expanding charter schools, repeating the usual charter school taking points about "choice" while ignoring the fact that CPS for a decade has closed schools on the South Side and West Side and then provided charter school recruiters with the home information about the top scoring children from schools facing problems, thereby facilitating charter recruitment. Some of the charter school people also spoke in favor of additional charter school expansion, despite the Board's claims that there will be none and the closings of 2013 have nothing to do with a secret but obvious plan to continue to drive public school students into the arms of the charters by forcing austerity and disruption on the real public schools while providing for the charters in the same communities.

None of the groups supporting the Board and profiting from the plutocracy ever talks about improving the city's real public schools or about the scandals of TIFs and other ways in which the CPS budget is hurt because of tax policies that favor the wealthy in both Chicago and Illinois.

When Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative finally took the podium at around one o'clock, she was surrounded by students who had boycotted the PSAE test earlier that day. Patel's speech demanded to know why the Board has been allowing the TIFs to siphon tax money from the public schools and why the Board was allowing the continuation of toxic swaps to the major banks that force the Board to pay high interest rates rather than get the lowest market rates currently available. Patel's speech noted that other cities have already changed their policies to benefit their public schools, and that Chicago could do the same.

When Patel finished speaking the students tried to speak, but because of the complex registration process, none of them was officially registered to speak and the Board members refused to allow any of them to speak. The self-discipline of the students averted what might have been a confrontation with security, and the group left the podium quietly, having faced security for the second time that day. The student "board member" sat there quietly and did not raise her voice on behalf of her fellow students when security removed them from the speakers' area.

While Amisha Patel spoke the students stood quietly behind her, but were prepared to speak as well. Because of CPS registration guidelines for public participation, none of them was allowed to speak, and CPS security threatened them when they tried to approach the microphone. Most of the students, who had boycotted the PSAE, wore tee shirts that said: We demand: No school closings; TIF money back into our schools; Elected school board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The final speaker to face the security shut up and shut down was Queen Sister. She wanted to demand to know why she had been debarred from being a vendor for the Board, and was the last speaker, but as she went through her papers her time ran out and security removed her from the podium.

The Board then went through the ritual of hearing the response to the complaints of the speakers, featuring Markey Winston, who was recently appointed chief of special education by the Board following a career in Cincinnati. Winston, in jargon filled detail, assured the Board members that every special needs child would be completely taken care of during the transition. The Board members asked some scripted questions, received the responses from Winston on the record, and then went into their public agenda votes, followed by a retreat into executive session.


April 25, 2013 at 7:16 AM

By: Kati Gilson, NBCT

Security silences speakers at BOE meeting

It was sad to see the microphone cut off on people who had such valuable comments because of the Board's selectively enforced "two minute" rule. One of those cut off by the large security people was the woman, Mila Cohen, with the baby who spoke so passionately about the affects school closings (and reassignments) will have on special needs children including her own child. The BOE says it's listening but when they shut down public comments at a meeting that shows otherwise. It wouldn't hurt to let a few people speak a few seconds longer because many folks don't utilize their full two minutes. Plus if there was more than one person from the same school they only let one person speak. So there's your lose minutes right there.

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