Chicago Public Schools (CPS) held a three-hour hearing on Thursday, May 27, on the eligibility of a member of Hyde Park Academy High School’s Local School Council (LSC).
This is the second time Maira Khwaja, one of two community representatives on the school’s council, is finding her seat challenged: after she won her election by a landslide in December, another nominee for the position alleged that Khwaja’s address made her ineligible for the spot.
Last time, the challenge was dismissed because the challenger wasn’t present. The latest complaint was filed anonymously, by someone living in the south suburbs. (Under the Chicago Board of Education’s rules, the Board “may act upon anonymous challenges, personal knowledge, or other information of council members’ ineligibility.”)
According to CPS LSC guidelines, “A community resident is eligible to serve on the Local School Council if he/she: resides in the school attendance area or voting district (for ‘multi-area’ schools).”
Kishasha Williams-Ford, attorney for the Chicago Board of Education, presented evidence against Khwaja, showing that she doesn’t live within the school attendance boundary using the CPS school locator tool that highlights the boundaries of all CPS schools. Marcus Pittman, a senior LSC Facilitator who spoke as a witness for Williams-Ford, said that voting districts are only for multi-area schools, while Hyde Park Academy is a neighborhood school.
Dixon Romeo, a member of the Local School Council Advisory Board, represented Khwaja during the hearing. Romeo argued that the LSC rules were confusing and undefined in the LSC handbook that CPS requires potential candidates to read.
Khwaja, who works with students at the school through her job at the nonprofit Invisible Institute, said that she believed Hyde Park Academy was a multi-area school because she knows students who attend the school who don’t reside within the attendance boundary. Khwaja also stated that CPS doesn’t clearly define what a voting district is. She lives in the 5th ward — the same as the school is located in — which it could be assumed is the voting district.
Throughout the hearing there was lots of evidence presented on both sides. Romeo pointed out the fact that CPS’s school locator had been updated since the date that Khwaja had been voted into her position, meaning the district could have been adjusted. Pittman stated that if any adjustments were made he would have been made aware.
Pamela Childs, who is the investigator on the case, was also in attendance. Childs is a retired CPD officer, who served 29 years on the force. She said that during her investigation she spoke with a faculty member at Hyde Park Academy, who told Khwaja she didn’t live in the attendance boundary for the school, but that Khwaja insisted on filling out the application anyway. Khwaja responded that she did not insist, but that they both agreed that CPS would not allow her to run if she was ineligible.
Romeo ended his statements by stating that at no point did Khwaja try to conceal her address and if CPS wanted to update the rules in the LSC handbook to clearly define voting districts and multi-area schools then it should be done when Khwaja’s term was over. Khwaja said that she believes these attacks on her are happening because of her progressive support for removing police from public schools.
Hearing officer Margaret Fitzpatrick did not say when a decision would be made on Khwaja’s case.