In Chicago Heights, IL, public school district 170 is under attack from LEARN Charter School Network. The charter school proposal and public hearing were not made very public to the community nor parents of students in district 170. As a parent, I was not notified until the morning of the public hearing, which was held on January 20th, on a Tuesday, after the MLK state holiday. Parents, administrators, and teachers were blindsided. We were able to quickly organize and we filled the auditorium with anti-charter school supporters. As we learned more and researched, we learned that the charter school is being pushed by a local church, St. Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Lawrence Blackful, who heads the church, has graciously offered to rent St. Bethel’s annexed property, which is an old warehouse, to LEARN Charter Network.
I find this disturbing. First, LEARN Charter only recruited parents from St. Bethel church. They have been presenting information and passing out flyers about their super school to all the church parishioners. LEARN did not reach out to all parents in the community, only a specific demographic. I, believe that LEARN is manipulating those parents and church goers they targeted with the idea their charter school is superior to public school district 170. If LEARN wants to open a public charter school, why didn’t they communicate and recruit all parents of all races? The education they offer is not superior, I read the proposal twice. They are not doing anything different or unique. I also have a problem that a church will profit from the rent and find this a conflict of interest. Why is LEARN working with a church and potentially paying them rent money with public school tax dollars? Isn’t there a separation of church and state? The conversion of a warehouse into school will cost district 170, at least, $5 million for the first year alone.
LEARN Charter will only accept 250 students out of 3,300 students that currently attend public school district 170. This financial hit alone will cripple the public school system. They will lose teachers and support staff. The students will lose music, art, after school sports, and other extracurricular activities. How can this be acceptable for the majority? The parents and the teachers that care are beside themselves with questions and concerns about the legitimacy and logic of this proposal.
The school board will vote on February 13th, 2015. I hope the school board votes NO. However, at the public hearing, LEARN Charter school threatened the school board and told them, even if you vote NO, we will appeal this.
The appeal is what frightens me. The newly elected governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, donated a large sum of money to LEARN Charter School Network last year. He also appoints the committee of nine that vote on the appeal. The nine are appointed, I am concerned they do not represent the public and will vote in favor of the charter school. This to me does not seem fair or democratic.
The concerned parents and community members are community activists and have little experience fighting in politics.
We are not unwilling to fight, educate others, and become active.
We just do not know how! How do we fight an appeal in Illinois?
Golden Apple '13
Instructor of Biology and Environmental Science