Lightfoot says lack of parental involvement is another reason to block elected CPS board

“I can’t agree to any kind of change in governance where parents are not front-and-center ... where the views and concerns of their children and students aren’t taken into consideration,” the mayor told Washington Post Live.

SHARE Lightfoot says lack of parental involvement is another reason to block elected CPS board
CTU President Jesse Sharkey and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey (left) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The mayor says recent dealings with the CTU over a return to in-person learning made the need for parental involvement even more clear.

Rich Hein; Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday cited yet another reason for not delivering the elected school board she promised during the mayoral campaign: the lack of parental involvement built into current proposals.

During an interview with Washington Post Live, Lightfoot said the demand for parental involvement was laid bare during the protracted negotiations that produced an agreement to gradually reopen Chicago Public Schools for pre-K, special education clusters and students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

She raised the issue of parental involvement when asked whether she still supports the elected school board she promised on the campaign trail.

“What I will say is this: I learned a lot through this recent experience with the Chicago Teachers Union. And particularly, hearing from parents who believe that their voices were locked out,” she said.

“Whatever the form of governance is that we move to, parents have to have a seat at the table of governance. And the proposals that I’ve seen so far fail spectacularly in that basic gating measure. I can’t agree to any kind of change in governance where parents are not front and center. Where the views and concerns of their children and students aren’t taken into consideration.”

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said an early version of the elected school board bill did allocate a specific number of seats to parents, but that provision “did not stand up to constitutional review and had to be removed.”

Davis Gates accused Lightfoot of talking out of both sides of her mouth and making up excuses for failing to deliver on an important campaign promise.

“There were almost 200 local school councils that are full of parents who have been demanding changes to remote learning and also asking for reopening that was safe and gradual. She ignored those parents. She ignored the parents who wanted to see their schools without cops. There were local school councils who voted to remove [school resource officers] and then, they did not receive the funding back,” Davis Gates said.

“Black parents and brown parents have been very clear about what they needed in this pandemic. They needed a hero and they needed an advocate. And what they have gotten is a closed door from the mayor and her team at CPS.”

Lightfoot campaigned as a staunch proponent of an elected school board, only to repeatedly block what she calls an “unwieldy” bill that would triple the size of the board to 21 members: 20 members elected from local districts, headed by a president elected by citywide vote, beginning in 2023.

Earlier this week, she fueled speculation about whether she will ever deliver on that pivotal campaign promise by telling the New York Times CPS would “never have opened without mayoral control.”

On Wednesday, Lightfoot added even more fuel to the fire, telling the Washington Post: “Obviously the fact that I was personally involved made a big difference in getting this matter resolved.”

The mayor said she welcomes “more public discussion” on an elected school board.

But whatever the “form of governance” turns out to be, the “key mission” must be to provide a “safe and nurturing learning environment” for students and confront “systemic racism and other inequities” that have become “even more glaringly apparent” during the pandemic, she said.

“The school system [and] education truly can be the great equalizer, but we have to be very intentional about what we do, how we do it and who we’re investing in and I want to make sure that Black and Latinx students do not fall behind — now or in the future,” she said.

“That’s got to also be a critical part of the calculus when we think about a new form of governance for the Board of Education.”

Shortly after Lightfoot took office, the entire school board resigned. That allowed Lightfoot to appoint an entirely new board with a heavy emphasis on parents, local school council members and other stakeholders.

At the time, the mayor claimed the new board would serve until an elected school board is seated.

But she also asked then-Senate President John Cullerton to put a brick on an elected school board bill that had sailed through the Illinois House. It would have created a 21-member elected board. Lightfoot claimed it would be virtually impossible for a board that size to get anything done.

“I don’t want to have another elected body where we’re gonna see outrageous amounts of money that need to be raised. That’s gonna exclude parent voices. … We’ve got to look at … the funding mechanisms so people don’t have to raise undue sums. That runs a risk of having undue influences shaping who gets on the board, who gets a state at the table, whose voices are heard,” she said then.

Last month, mayoral allies once again succeeded in blocking that bill to establish a 21-member board.

The CTU and the Grassroots Education Movement had accused Senate President Don Harmon of stalling the bill and demanded that he call it for a vote.

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