BOARDWATCH: 'DNAinfo Chicago' news service joins the exposes of the suppression of citizens' First Amendment rights... Board of Education excludes more and more people from its monthly meetings while CPS officials threaten news photographers with arrest for 'disrupting' meetings by covering the news

A few hours after the monthly meeting of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education suffered the lowest citizen turnout for "Public Participation" in (probably) a decade, the story came in about the ongoing attack on the First Amendment by this Board. Why was the size of the turnout on September 24, 2014 so low? Probably thanks to the ongoing suppression of the First Amendment rights of CPS parents, students, teachers, and others by David Vitale and the Board of Education appointed by Rahm Emanuel.

Jesus Ramos being dragged out of the July 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Ramos tried to intervene when Board President David Vitale ordered CPS security to remove his wife, Rousemary Vega, from the Board meeting. Vega had become incensed when Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, a millionaire lawyer who pretends to provide some kind of representation for the city's Latino people but who slavishly follows the whims of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made a fatuous comment and called an audible that Ruiz was a "coward." The result was the confrontation (above), the forced removal of both Jesus and Rousemary from the Board, and the subsequent banning of the family from public meetings of the Board of Education of the third largest school district in the USA. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.And finally another media friend published part of that truth. DNAInfo Chicago published an expose about how CPS under David Vitale (Board President) and Barbara Byrd Bennett (the current "Chief Executive Officer") is banning a growing number of people from even entering the Board's headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. A part of the story was being retold (since it had already been told here already, but ignored largely elsewhere).

The only First Amendment violation left out of the DNAInfo story is that the Board of Education has also been regularly threatening news photographers (including this reporter) for "disrupting" the meetings by going outside designated areas to photograph activities during the Board meetings. Beginning in March 2014. CPS Security officials told me that I would be "removed" and "possibly arrested" if I continued to "disrupt" the Board meetings by going to the side of the meeting to photograph speakers and other activities during the meetings.

When I asked what the authorization was for that threat, CPS Security "Chief Officer" Jadine Chou came to me and gave me a copy of David Vitale's policy on "disruptive behavior." At the time, and since, I told the security people (many of whom -- not including Jadine Chou -- have long been my friends) that I would continue to go where the story is to get photographs and that the government (CPS security; Vitale; Chou) does not have the right to tell the press (Substance) where and from what angle a story is supposed to be covered.

Since then, I and other news photographers and reporters have gone to where the action i during Board meetings and in the schools -- despite the attempts by CPS officials to suppress news coverage. Sadly, most of the reporters who cover the Board go along with these attacks on freedom of the press. Most of them can be seen sitting primly taking notes as if they were taking dictation during an office session from the days of "Mad Men" rather than following up on the realities unfolding around them.

Rousemary Vega continued to protest the school closings on May 2013 a year after her children's school, Lafayette Elementary, was closed supposedly because it was "underutilized" and needed to be repurposed. Vega's protests included noting that Board President David Vitale lied to the parents and children at the school by telling everyone that the building would never be used for a charter school. A year later, in May 2014, the Board quietly voted to provide the Lafayette building to "Chicago Arts." Vega's protests at the May 208, 2014 Board meeting (above) resulted in Vitale ordering the "security swarm" to pull her away from the microphone. She and her family continued to defend their rights until following the brutal eviction from the July 2014 Board meeting they were barred from the public meetings of the third largest school system in the USA. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Board of Education appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011 is not the first to try and suppress the First Amendment rights of citizens, including the press. Since Substance began covering the Board meetings nearly 40 years ago (Substance will mark our 40th year of publication in 2015), each Board at one time or another has tried to suppress the exercise of the First Amendment by citizens, including parents, teachers, students -- and reporters. A longer history of those years will be published shortly here at

The September 24, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education demonstrated that Vitale and Byrd Bennett may be winning their fight against the rights of citizens, however. Only 17 people spoke during the "public participation," the lowest in my memory (and I am the senior reporter covering the Board at this point in history). What's more, only 26 people signed up to bother to speak to the Board yesterday. Once we were noting that the Board had set a limit of "only" 60 possible speakers at each Board meeting, and on many days more than 60 had tried to sign up but were excluded since the sign up process became computerized a year ago.

Have citizens been worn down by the lies, half truths, and smugly prim lectures on decorum coming regularly from CPS officials and the seven members of the Board? The next Board meeting is on October 22, 2014. Signing up will begin on October 14 and continue through October 20 "or until all slots are filled." It will be a month before the public can learn whether the attempts by David Vitale and the MBAs who currently run Chicago's public schools to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizens have succeeded. Meanwhile, at least one other news services is reporting the facts about the Outlaw behavior of Vitale and CPS as the 2014 - 2015 school year begins.

Since they took power following their appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011, the current seven members of the Chicago Board of Education have smugly patronized those who criticize their policies, not matter how brutal the results may be in the lives of children. Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz began his time in office by reminding the public regularly that his parents were poor immigrants who hadn't finished elementary school, but now he was a leader of the "community" in Humboldt Park thanks to his service to the plutocracy as a millionaire lawyer. Board President David Vitale regularly lectures those who bring inconvenient truth before the Board that there are what he calls "true facts" and the other kind, which are those which contradict the policies of the Emanuel appointees. Above, Ruiz (left) and Vitale (right) were smugly patronizing Rousemary Vega at the May 28, 2014 meeting of the Board before Vitale ordered the security swarm to remove Vega from the microphone. Substance photo by George Schmidt. From the beginning of the Rahm Emanuel Board of Education, the Board has been moving in a dozen ways to suppress dissent. Besides promoting the "paid protesters" that became a scandal when exposed during their first year, the Board members have encouraged charter school touts to regular take the floor of the Board to promote the supposed miracles of the charters (as if no real public school had ever had a student go to an Ivy league university) and to continually recite carefully scripted praises for the Academy for Urban School Research (AUSL), which the Board imposed on schools after it declares a so-called "turnaround.'

The use of violence and smug sanctimony to remove dissent from the Board did not begin when the Board members began barring dissenters from the Board meetings. By the end of the first year of the Rahm Emanuel Board, Board security were dragging out parents and others who insisted on speaking beyond the paltry two minutes time that is allowed for the so-called "public" to speak to the Board. Instead of recognizing the rights of citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances, as the First Amendment has protected since 1789, Chicago's school board acts as if its time listening to criticism were an imposition on their precious time.


DOWNTOWN When Rousemary Vega screamed at a Chicago Board of Education member and called him a "coward" during a meeting, and her husband fought with security guards as the couple were escorted out, they joined a small list of activists who have been barred from CPS meetings in the past year.

Since December [2013], the district has banned four people from attending the typically contentious meetings, documents obtained by DNAinfo Chicago through a Freedom of Information Act request show. They are the first people banned from the monthly meetings including one Wednesday at 125 S. Clark St. under rule changes implemented in August 2013.

(Link: Ben Woodard explains how he got the blacklist and why people are on it)

The set of guidelines issued by board president David Vitale dictate the terms of public participation at board meetings and prohibit "unsolicited comments and disruptive behavior. ... If any individual is removed from a meeting as a result of disruptive behavior, then the individual may forfeit their right of reentry to future Chicago Board of Education meetings."

A CPS spokeswoman said the rules "ensure that the public's right to be informed of the Board's proceedings and actions is honored, and not impeded."

In addition to Vega and her husband Jesus Ramos, the other bans were issued after one man allegedly got into an altercation with a speaker at a meeting, while another man allegedly threatened to go to an administrator's home.

But some activists say the bans impede their right to speak freely about big issues facing the city's education system.

"I think its a symptom of a totally flawed structure. Sure I get that screaming while someone else is making their point is a problem, but I dont think banning people is the answer," said Wendy Katten, a parent of a sixth-grader and the director of Raise Your Hand, an education advocacy organization. "What we have here is a major stifling of voices in all facets."

Vega, who had regularly attended board meetings, said the bans only serve to "silence parents."

Vega, her husband and their four children were attending a meeting in July to speak to the seven-person board after their neighborhood school, Lafayette Elementary School, was closed.

A maximum of 60 members of the public are allowed to sign up to speak for no more than two minutes at meetings. When Vega and her husband spoke out of turn, someone took out their cell phone to record the confrontation as things got heated.

The video, posted to YouTube, shows as many as six security guards pulling the family from the room.

CPS security chief Jadine Chou wrote to Jesus Ramos that his "highly charged disruptive behavior" led to his dismissal.

"Because you were disruptive and you punched, kicked and struck several security personnel, you have forfeited your right of reentry to future Board meetings," the letter read.

In a separate letter to Vega, also dated Aug. 1, Chou alleged the stay-at-home mom of disrupting three previous board meetings. In July, Vega went to the front of the meeting room and began "booing" board member Jessie Ruiz and calling him a "coward," the letter states. The meeting was not the first time she heckled a person in power.

Vega claims the rules only serve to stifle the voices of those opposed to the actions of the board, which included the shuttering of 50 schools in June 2013. She's upset that the guidelines do not allow those banned to appeal the decision.

"I feel like they robbed my voice once again," Vega said. " ... They would rather ban a parent instead of training their security guards to treat and deal with families who come to meetings when theres emotions and outrage you cant blame us for being outraged and emotional."

The first person to be banned under the board's new rules was resident Ronald Jackson in December, according to a letter addressed to him.

Chou alleged that Jackson, who could not be reached for comment, interrupted a person speaking to the board during a meeting in November, asking him, "How much are you being paid?" and calling him a "sellout."

Then, Chou wrote, Jackson pushed past a woman, causing a cut to her ring finger, and provoked "a physical altercation" that caused the speaker's pants to be torn.

Jackson's ban began in December and ended last month, according to the letter.

In May, another man, Ellyson Carter, was banned from meetings until July 2015.

Chou alleges that Carter threatened Chief Officer for Network Support Denise Little at an April board meeting, saying, "You can expect me to come by your house, Denise Little."

Carter declined to comment when reached by phone, but referred questions about the incident to his boss, Katelyn Johnson, the executive director of activist organization Action Now.

"Its so incredibly heartbreaking on so many levels because the board has made it so incredibly difficult to access them," Johnson said of the bans. "Honestly, since the tenure of Rahm Emanuel, they are untouchable."

Katten, with Raise Your Hand, said she couldn't recall anyone being banned from meetings before December, even though there have been contentious meetings in the past.

Lauren Huffman, a CPS spokeswoman, said those banned from meetings are still able to submit written comments and speak with board members during open office hours.

CPS BoE Ban Letters


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