Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed legislation that will create local school councils for small public schools in Chicago, a move he said will increase the chance for families, teachers and community members to “make their voices heard.”
The legislation creates local school councils for small schools within Chicago Public Schools, the state’s largest school district. Another bill the governor signed Friday attempts stop sexual misconduct in schools and offer resources to survivors.
Pritzker signed both bills without the usual fanfare.
In a statement, he praised Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, Assistant House Majority Leader Jaime Andrade, D-Chicago, and other state legislators for their work on the local school councils legislation, saying they’re “supporting community-driven, democratic solutions at Chicago Public Schools.”
Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, issued a statement applauding the move.
“These new changes will empower our Local School Councils and elevate student and community voices so we can improve the quality of education at every CPS school,” Martinez was quoted as saying. “This is an example of the positive change that can happen when we work collaboratively, and we look forward to working with our communities, our parents, our students, and our partners in Springfield to continue to improve the system.”
The legislation allows small schools to establish school councils. A “small” school is one offering a specialized school design, education focus or curriculum, according to a news release. It also must have a maximum enrollment of 600 students for high schools or 350 students for elementary schools.
Schools creating a local council must appoint one full-time student member. Students must be in 6th grade or higher to serve on an elementary school council.
The new law, taking effect immediately, also requires school principals to hold a mid-year advisory election in which students say which student they want appointed to the council. The results will be binding.
Each council’s process for vetting staff candidates also must be made public.
The councils will be able to reject or modify school improvement plans and the implementation of those plans. When schools are placed on probation, the council will receive criteria for being placed back in good standing on or before Oct. 31 every year.
Also Friday, Pritzker signed legislation that has become known as “Faith’s Law.”
It’s named for Faith Colson, who was sexually abused by a teacher in Schaumburg two decades ago. The legislation expands the definition of grooming in the state’s criminal code and adds resources and protections for sexual abuse survivors and their families.
The definition of grooming initially included only internet-based communication. The legislation also includes acts performed in person, through direct communication or a third party, or through written communication.
The law, which includes multiple effective dates, will also require school districts to develop a sexual misconduct code of conduct, review employment history and increase training for educators on the physical and mental health needs of students, student safety and educator ethics, among other topics.
In a statement, Pritzker said “students deserve to be safe in their classrooms, period.”
“Anything short of that is a call to action, and Faith’s Law is another critical step in creating and preserving safe and welcoming learning environments for all students,” Pritzker’s statement continued.
Colson said in a statement that her goal in working on the legislation for the past two years “has been to prevent other students from having to suffer as I did, and I am hopeful that with these new measures, schools will be safer and futures will be brighter.”