Black parents complaining in Oak Park

It was standing room only last night in a village hall meeting room where black parents and others gathered to talk about how blacks are treated, or mistreated, at Oak Park & River Forest High School.

Mother after mother, and one father arose to castigate the school, which more than one said has fallen far short of their expectations of a non-ghetto public institution. One mother told of visiting a class that was 90% black where spit balls were being thrown and the teacher ignored the lack of order.

A student complained of her honors class teacher who would neither see her nor answer her emails.

A white mother told of students in the village’s northeasternmost elementary (K-6) school being “profiled” — she didn’t say how, except by address — and sent repeatedly to classes taught by sub-par teachers, framing the issue as going beyond the high school. Later in the meeting, she spoke in favor of a law that would require not only integrated schools but integrated classrooms.

A black mother said all was wonderful for her children at Oak Park’s Beye school, then at the middle school began to deteriorate, and then fell apart at OPRF high.

A white mother asked about placement at the high school based on entrance tests, not race, but black mothers spoke out, several at once, about their children not being prepared well for the more demanding classes.

A common thread was disappointment at Oak Park in general, where there was little room at the academic top, a black mother said, and what she considered unfair tactics by unnamed individuals to keep black kids away from it.

The meeting had been variously described beforehand as about finding a way “to pass the AYP again,” Adequate Yearly Progress assessment required by the No Child Left Behind law, and a chance for “supporters of justice” to meet “regarding racial equity at the high school.”

The school was represented by the superintendent, Stephen Isoye, who spoke briefly at the end, describing ongoing plans to improve the school, and a half dozen administrative staff people. Longtime Oak Parker John Duffy, a veteran teacher at two area high schools, chaired the meeting, which for all its criticism of the school was measured in tone and language.

It was held in a smaller room than had been expected. Indeed, village hall is an unusual venue for a meeting about issues at the high school, which has many meeting places of varying sizes, of course. The organizers were ready to move everyone down the street to the elementary District 97 building a half mile a way, but nothing was said about the high school itself.

In fact, a press release said the meeting would be co-hosted by Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley, whose interest in high school issues has hitherto escaped public notice. Chief Tanksley did not appear at the meeting, nor was mentioned.

The village hall’s council chambers, with tiered seating and gallery and room for hundreds, was not available — a matter pointed out by a black mother from River Forest as suspicious, with implications of unfair discrimination. (The chambers were being used by another group, apparently a citizen commission, with commissioners at the trustees’ table, and onlookers scattered in the seats.) [See below]

Perhaps the evening’s most telling comments were about the lack of discipline at the high school, with reports by at least one student of sexual activity in the corridors between classes and dress-code violations — with security guards doing nothing about it but rather being friends with students, joining them at cafeteria lunch tables, for instance.

The meeting’s organizers have in mind a movement to change things at the school. John Duffy gave his views in the Wednesday Journal prior to the meeting, arguing for a “vision of bringing diverse people together around a shared vision” of how to remove the black-white learning gap.

There’s a news story in the Journal today. Two, actually. The second is a fuller version.

Later: In fact, the council chambers were being used probably by the village board itself, for one of a series of budget discussions for 2012.  So this ad hoc black parents group was  bumped at Village Hall for a village government issue of prime importance.  Probably, because the village’s Plan Commission was also meeting at that time.

Like the road-gang guard in “Cool Hand Luke,” we had here a failure to communicate?  Who booked the prize-venue council chambers in the first place?  Chief Tanksley, billed as a host but otherwise missing from the proceedings?  The chambers were booked on the village hall events calendar.  Didn’t he or someone else look at the calendar?  Where was he when the venue was changed?

And finally, with all due respect to the ad hoc parents group leaders, was it not premature at best to imply racial discrimination in the abrupt change of venue?

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