Brizard Can't Ignore Whittier Parents

06/29/2011 06:39 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

CPS chief Jean Claud Brizard may have thought he could carry out a preemptive strike against the Whittier Parents Committee. He couldn't.

Construction crews arrived at Whittier last Wednesday morning. (The Huffington Post reports they were set to start two days earlier but bad weather forced a postponement.) The Board of Education didn't actually rubberstamp the project until later that day.

Whittier parents who were downtown to testify at the board meeting rushed back to the school, organizer Evelin Santos said. They found police trying to seal off La Casita, the fieldhouse which CPS has promised to lease to a nonprofit operated by the parents, she said.

Everyone knows that the parents have been negotiating with CPS over the future of La Casita and over where to put a new library for Whittier -- negotiations won after parents occupied the building for 43 days last fall. The parents want the library in the fieldhouse so it can be available to students and the community after school hours.

Launching construction without informing the parents was a simple, straightforward act of bad faith.

Perhaps newcomer Brizard doesn't know that this community isn't going to be pushed around. Perhaps he doesn't know that this community won a new high school for Little Village with a two-week hunger strike in 2001.

Faced by the parents' picket line, the construction crews withdrew. Police pulled back. The occupation of La Casita is back on. And Brizard was forced to meet with parents.

A new focus is the decision to eliminate a special education classroom to make room for a library in the school. That move might be illegal if a comparable space isn't provided, one observer said. A windowless room in the basement might not cut it.

At this point parents have no idea where -- or if -- pull-out sessions for special ed kids will be held.

That's the problem with top-down, unilateral decisions about school facilities and programs that are made without community input. Parents and community members have basic questions, and basic insights, that deserve attention.

The parents committee charges that "Brizard's unilateralism represents an even more autocratic and unaccountable central office bureaucracy -- one that puts the concerns of parents, students and teachers last."

Negotiations between CPS and the Whittier Parents Committee were suspended last year when Ron Huberman quit as CPS chief -- after he'd presented a plan for a library on the school's second floor, but before the parents had presented their proposal, Santos said.

The plan, designed with a group of local architects and presented to the community several weeks ago, is quite impressive. It's already won an award from the local Design Makes Change group. The parents have come up with sources of funding, too.

Their plan deserves a hearing. Especially if Brizard expects his rhetoric about the importance of parent and community involvement in schools to have any credibility.

Previously posted at Community Media Workshop's Newstips.