Parent sues top CPS high school to release video recordings of meetings on racism concerns

Lawsuit claims not releasing the recordings violates Illinois open records laws.

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Jones College Prep in Printers Row in Chicago.

Jones College Prep in the South Loop

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A parent at Jones College Prep has sued the school’s Local School Council for declining to release footage and logs of open summer meetings, some of which were called to discuss allegations of racism at the South Loop high school.

Jones was one of several selective enrollment schools to be called out by its students via Instagram this summer in the midst of nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. Students said that their administrations had allowed cultures of racism to grow at the prestigious high schools, to the detriment of Black, Brown and Indigenous students who felt they were left on the outside looking in.

In response, administrators formed committees and held discussions to form action plans to address the problems, including Jones Principal Joseph Powers, who held the first of a series of Zoom meetings on July 14 to listen to concerns from the school’s community.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 11 by Jones parent Cassandra Cresswell, names the Jones LSC as the defendant and claims the LSC violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA) by declining to publish the videos and chat logs of these meetings, despite their willingness to release audio recordings.

It also alleges that the LSC was in violation of the Open Meetings Act by not voting by roll call for the appointments of two interim LSC positions at a July 28 meeting, and by placing rules prohibiting speakers from using another person’s name at an Aug. 11 meeting.

“Current Jones families and prospective Jones families both deserve to have a clear picture about what’s happening at the school. We can’t expect an institution to improve without knowing the facts of its current situation, whether those are racist incidents, systematic discrimination, sexual misconduct, etc.,” Cresswell told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And, given the disproportionate resources that selective enrollment high schools receive in CPS, taxpayers and the public deserve to have that clear picture as well. If some [selective enrollment] schools aren’t serving BIPOC students well, then that has implications for the entire system.”

After multiple requests from Cresswell to release the video and chat logs, Jones LSC FOIA/OMA Officer Timothy Peterson responded that they could only release the audio recordings, saying “CPS legal confirmed this ability keeps us in compliance with any FOIA/OMA requests,” according to emails that were attached in the lawsuit.

However, nearly an hour and a half into the July 14 meeting, a student can be heard asking where the video from the meeting will be posted, and Powers responds: “We’ll work out how those things will be posted, along with the group chat as well, those will all be part of the record. But definitely the video should definitely be able to be posted to the website.”

Powers deferred comment to Chicago Public Schools, and Peterson did not return a request for comment.

In a statement, CPS said, “While the district does not comment on pending litigation, Chicago Public Schools is committed to transparency and has provided guidelines to Local School Councils to ensure digital meetings are conducted in an open and inclusive manner.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Chicago law firm of Loevy & Loevy, claims that the videos and chat logs are not exempt from public record laws, and demands that the LSC release the requested records, pay a fine and abolish the rule prohibiting speakers from using the names of public officials or employees at LSC meetings.

A hearing for the case has been scheduled for January 11.

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