Photo by Brett Jelinek
New schools chief has thrown out agreement with parents, months of negotiations, hundreds of thousands of dollars at expense of community needs and public accountability, charge parents.
CHICAGO, June 28, 2011 — Parents of students at Whittier elementary school in Chicago’s Pilsen community have accused new public school chief Jean Claude Brizard of bargaining in bad faith with their project and abandoning months of negotiations by reneging on a deal worked out with local elected officials and the previous school administration.
Parents, students and community supporters have been struggling for months to convince top administrators to hold up their end of a bargain to build a library for students in the school’s field house, an effort that grew so contentious earlier this year that parents and supporters occupied the field house for more than 40 days. School officials had moved to demolish the field house, despite months of negotiations to win a library for the school, which like many other public schools, currently lacks a formal library. In the fall, then school chief Ron Huberman agreed to the parents’ appeal, in no small part because the parents had leveraged a commitment of TIF funds and thousands of dollars in in-kind support to make the library renovation possible.
But this month, Brizard moved to create a library space on the second floor of the school — displacing students with disabilities from existing classroom space, and neglecting previous promises to renovate the field house.
Brizard’s unilateral decision undercuts months of good-faith negotiations by parents and supporters and puts the future library and surrounding play areas at threat, at the same time sacrificing hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding originally designated for the renovation. Parents also argue that the administration’s new ‘plan’ for an in-school library eviscerates valuable classroom space for students with disabilities who already confront second class services system-wide. More broadly, they charge that Brizard’s unilateralism represents an even more autocratic and unaccountable central office bureaucracy — one that puts the concerns of parents, students and teachers last, at the expense of arbitrary senior administration decisions that fail to put students’ needs before expediency or development imperatives that don’t serve local communities.
Parents have re-occupied the field house to prevent any renewed threat of demolition, and have vowed to step up their resistance to the new administrative regime’s unilateralism.