I am a proud parent of a student at National Teachers Academy (NTA). NTA is a high-performing, majority-Black, low-income elementary school in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.
In 2017, despite its Level 1+ CPS ranking, the Board of Education (BOE) decided to close NTA and repurpose the building for a new high school that would serve mostly white, upper-middle income families moving to the neighborhood.
In 2017 and 2018 I, along with other NTA parents and students, attended monthly BOE meetings and spoke about how closing NTA would be detrimental to our students. Every time we spoke, we were belittled, ignored and even gaslighted by BOE members, all of whom had been appointed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It wasn't just us. At these meetings, I personally witnessed many other school communities struggling to have their voices heard.
One of supporters of #WeAreNTA was Lori Lightfoot. As a mayoral candidate, Lightfoot witnessed our struggles and publicly opposed the BOE decision to close NTA, saying “I just don’t understand the logic behind this.” She knew how Emmanuel’s unelected school board operated. And she was right.
In December 2018, a Cook County judge ruled to freeze BOE’s NTA plan, concluding it violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act. So when Mayor Lightfoot was elected, I was hopeful. Not only was the establishment of an elected school board part of her policy platform, but through the #WeAreNTA struggle, Lightfoot knew that CPS parent and student voices had long been neglected. She knew that an elected school board could ameliorate some of the harm done by CPS and the BOE.
Ultimately, Mayor Lightfoot didn’t keep her word. Mayor Lightfoot proposed a “hybrid” school board bill in order to obstruct two robust elected school board bills pending in the Senate. The bills are SB2497, sponsored by Sen. Robert Martwick and HB2908 which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Delia Ramirez and passed into the Senate under Sen. Martwick’s sponsorship.
Despite enough votes to pass, Senate President Harmon did not call SB2497 this week. Instead Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who is sponsoring the Mayor’s bill, demanded compromise. Rumor has it that compromise may include a 21-seat board with a majority of mayor-appointed BOE members. Mayor Lightfoot’s “hybrid” bill currently would allow her to appoint the majority of members and would sunset in 2030.
What is a “hybrid” board if the member majority is appointed? What is “hybrid” if Chicagoans can never have decisive representation for their children’s interests and no means to hold the BOE accountable? A “hybrid” board would basically be what we currently have: a mayoral appointed, unelected school board.
I was stunned when Mayor Lightfoot explained her reasons to oppose SB2497 and HB2908 to national media as “I can’t agree to any kind of change of governance where parents aren’t front and center for the views and concerns of their children and students.” Which parents is she talking about? Certainly not NTA parents. Definitely not the parents of Harper HS, Hope HS, Team Englewood, and Robson HS, the four schools whose closure had been proposed at the same time as NTA, but could not be saved despite our best efforts.
Clearly, a fully elected school board is the wish of CPS parents whose voices have been long neglected. We deserve the same democracy as all other school districts in Illinois, including Sen. Harmon’s own in Oak Park.
Once again, I demand an elected representative school board for Chicago now.
Aiko Kojima Hibino