Noble postcards to kids worry CPS parents about privacy, poaching

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Some parents at Coonley Elementary School on the North Side, shown here in a 2013 photo, were outraged their children were sent material soliciting them to attend a charter school. | Michael Jarecki/For Sun-Times Media

Some outraged Chicago Public Schools parents of elementary school children want to know how the Noble Network of Charter Schools school got their kids’ names, current schools and home addresses to mail out recruitment postcards.

Not only do they worry their children’s privacy may have been breached. They also are concerned that the charter school is swooping in at an unstable time to poach kids awayfrom CPS to keep its own attendance numbers up.

“There’s a potential strike,” said Coonley parent Jeff Jenkins, incensed that his 11-year-old son received a glossy maileron Monday inviting him to enroll at a Noble school this fall. “Parents are frustrated and scared.”

In an email message to Coonley parents on Friday, school officials said the CPS inspector general was investigating the matter.

The arrival of the postcards, which may once have been viewed as junk mail, highlights a current reality in Chicago’s public schools, which were shown in a recent preliminary count to have lost 13,000 children since a year ago. The competition for remaining students in a district that puts a price tag on each one has become ferocious, as both the budgeted amount per student and the total number of kids have declined.

“It’s really troubling,” Jenkins said. Coonley students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades received the cards — which they hadn’t requested.

Parents from a number of other elementary schools — Disney II, Saucedo and Murphy — also reported on Facebook that their kids got cards this week. They, too, were upset about what they perceived as a breach of their children’s private information — and suspicious about who provided it.

CPS says it does not release such information to charter schools and forbids any partners privy to private student information from doing the same. District spokesman Michael Passman said CPS did not give or sell any information to Noble.

Noble spokesman Cody Rogers said the charter chain paid a mass mailing company to have the cards sent to a number of students citywide encouraging them to enroll this fall in several of their schools, an effort he described as part of typical recruiting. He did not releasethe company’s name.

“We also contact families through third-party companies that distribute our information cards but don’t share specific names and addresses with us, which is a standard process used by numerous organizations that send bulk mail,” he said. “Our goal is to simply inform families of the opportunity to choose a public charter option for their students, and mail is one of the many ways we do that.”

For the last few years, CPS has allotted money to schools, whether run by the district or by privately-managed publicly-funded charter operators, based on the exact number of students they enroll on the 20th day of classes, which this year falls on Oct. 3. That’s when CPS will lay off up to 300 staffers.

This year’s base allotment of about $4,000 per student also is lower than it was a year ago.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) is among those who’ve likened the competition to the Hunger Games, the books and movies in which kids from impoverished backgrounds compete to stay alive.

Principals are doing everything they can to keep their students — or lure others away from other schools, Garza said, because if enrollment falls below district projections, they will lose even more money from budgets cut year after year.

“It’s the Hunger Games,” she said. “Nobody wants to lose the money.”

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