Imagine if an unknown adult came to your classroom to remove a child to question them privately. This happened last week at two Chicago Public Schools. The unknown adults were from the CPS legal department. The classrooms they visited were rooms where the teacher had refused to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). Students as young as eight were taken to the principal’s office, doors were shut and the child was questioned one-on-one by the CPS representative.
The back story to this began a couple of weeks ago. There was push-back to standardized testing by the parents and teachers in the Chicago Public School system. Some parents wanted to opt out of the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). The state Board of Education said all students must have the test placed in front of them and the instructions read to them. Parents were furious.
At two schools, a portion of the teachers “respectfully declined” to administer the test. The Board of Education responded with a threat to revoke state teaching certificates. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said teachers who refused to give the state mandated test would be “walked out” of their school. (To see the complete story of this read my article: Fight, Fight.)
The testing weeks came and went. No teachers were walked out. Students who had been opted out by their parents, for the most part, went to another room and did work. Some principals did put pressure on the children, trying to get them to take the test later, or asking the child if they wanted to take the test even thought the parent had signed the opt-out forms. That seemed to be that.
Chicagoans, and especially the current administration, however, do not forget slights. In what many are referring to as “a witch hunt,” this past Thursday and Friday, representatives from the Chicago Public Schools’ legal department arrived at each of the schools where the teachers chose not to test. The CPS spokesman said they were talking to the students “to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered.” They were attempting to learn how teachers “conducted” themselves during testing.
When the parents learned of this they began calling the school to refuse to allow their children to be questioned. It was too late for some, as many children had already been interviewed. Both children who had been opted out and who had taken the test were talked to. They ranged from third to eighth grade. CPS says they didn’t question children who refused.
Parents and teachers report children saying the questions were about who decided the child should opt out of the ISAT test, if they were directly instructed by their teacher not to take the test, and if the parents were paid to opt out. Then they were asked, “Are you lying?” One parent reported her daughter was worried she got her teacher in trouble.
Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Norine Gutekanst said “We’re very concerned with them putting children in the middle here,” she added, “and possibly eroding the trust that exists between a child and his or her teacher.”
CTU President Karen Lewis said the interrogation of students at both schools is about intimidation and that CPS is creating a hostile atmosphere by having students believe their teachers can be fired for standing up for them.
CPS says their actions are legal under the loco parentis Illinois common law doctrine. This law puts the status of “quasi parent” on schools for school related activities. This is questionable as the law for the safety of children.
Whether it is legal or not, it certainly pushes the ethical behavior envelope. What would you have done if it was your child or student?