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Elected Chicago school board, expanded fertility treatment coverage, teaching Asian American history advance in Springfield

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz said she introduced a bill that would require Illinois schools to teach students about Asian American history because Asian Americans “are part of the American fabric, but we are often invisible.”

The Illinois House meets in Springfield in 2015.
The Illinois House meets in Springfield in 2015.
Seth Perlman/AP file

An elected school board in Chicago and expanding fertility treatment coverage to include same-sex couples and women over 35 were among the measures that advanced in the General Assembly Wednesday, the second day legislators met in Springfield — and virtually — for session.

House members voted in favor of legislation that would amend the state’s insurance code to provide coverage for the “diagnosis and treatment of infertility … without discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, domestic partner status, gender, gender expression, gender identity,” according to the language of the bill.

State Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, the lead sponsor of the bill, said it’s “about equal access to coverage and will make Illinois insurance far more inclusive.

“Everyone should be able to receive the same insurance coverage regardless of gender, sexuality, medical history or relationship status,” she said.

State Rep. Margaret Croke last year.
State Rep. Margaret Croke last year.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

But state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, urged his colleagues to vote no on the bill, saying he thinks it covers “situations that I wouldn’t consider a medical condition.

“I think insurance is for medical conditions. We have really high insurance rates in the state. We keep tacking onto the costs,” Batinick said.

The bill passed 68 to 43 and now heads to the state Senate.

The House also passed a bill Wednesday that would require Illinois schools to teach students about Asian American history following a spike in violence against Asian Americans and the killing of six Asian American women in Atlanta.

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz said she introduced the bill because Asian Americans “are part of the American fabric, but we are often invisible.”

“We have been the victims of racialized violence and exclusion throughout American history,” she said, adding that her grandparents faced “discrimination and deportation under racist policies codified in the Chinese Exclusion acts” but she was taught nothing about that in elementary or secondary school.

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz in 2018.
State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz in 2018.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

The proposed unit of education would include the history of the exclusion acts, the internment of Japanese Americans and the military service of Asian Americans throughout American history.

Speaking in support of the bill, state Rep. Theresa Mah recalled an instance of hate directed at her less than two years ago. A group of middle school students passing Mah and another Asian American yelled a slur at them.

“In that moment we were denied the full measure of our humanity by a preteen child,” the Southwest Side Democrat said. “One question that this bill is trying to answer is whether that child or other children would have uttered those words if they understood that Asian Americans are not perpetual foreigners to be objectified, but are part of the history that built this country.”

State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, speaks to reporters outside the Post Office in Pilsen about allegations of discrimination against non-English speaking customers last year.
State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, speaks to reporters outside the Post Office in Pilsen about allegations of discrimination against non-English speaking customers last year.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

That bill passed, 98 to 13, and now also heads to the Senate.

The Senate’s Executive Committee passed a Senate bill that would create an elected Chicago school board starting in 2022. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is opposed to the legislation and its House counterpart.

The Senate bill could move onto the Senate floor for debate, though some committee members wanted outstanding issues with the bill addressed before it faces a final floor vote.

Some opponents to the bill called for a hybrid model that allows for both elected and appointed members. Claiborne Wade, a parent liaison at Oscar DePriest Elementary School and a member of the parent advisory board at Kids First Chicago, said the bill should “be guided by what CPS parents want.”

“I strongly feel that my wife and I know what’s best for our four children, it would not make sense for lawmakers to make decisions on behalf of our family without our input or addressing our concerns,” Wade said. “A representative board should guarantee at least half, or a majority, of parent members, with a diversity that reflects the demographics of the student body, not the city of Chicago.”

Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford voted for the bill, but said it was important to continue negotiations to “come up with the absolute best process and the best model that we can” for students and families.

“There’s so much that goes into this huge change that we will be making, for the better is my hope, but we can’t do it because we’re siding with this group versus that group,” the Maywood Democrat said.

State Sen. Rob Martwick, sponsor of the bill, said he was open to amending it, but the Northwest Side Democrat said concerns mentioned Wednesday were already considered.

“Whether it does it adequately or not, I guess we can debate about that,” he said. “I am always open to hearing how we can improve it.”

Rachel Hinton reported from Chicago, Andrew Sullender from Springfield