CPS Accused of 'Improperly Barring' People from Open School Board Meeting

By Jon Graef in News on Aug 31, 2013 8:00PM

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Photo credit: Ken Smith

Columbia College professors Curtis Lawrence and Suzanne McBride* told WBEZ that CPS "improperly barred" people from attending away at Wednesday's open school board meeting.

Chicago Public Schools improperly managing public business? Perish the thought.

But that's exactly as Lawrence and McBride said. Before we go any further, though, full disclosure: this writer had Lawrence and McBride as professors when he attended Columbia College to earn a Master's in journalism. Hopefully, they haven't yet had to apologize for unleashing yours truly out on the general media landscape.

Back to the meeting: Lawrence and McBride had trouble getting into it, as did their graduate students, who are the poor bastards who have no idea what's coming were there to report on the proceedings.

Only they ran into a little SNAFU:

"We were being told that everyone had to register online in advance," said Lawrence. "Our students from Columbia College eventually got in, we got press passes. But my concern as a journalist and just as a Chicago citizen is what about the school parent who doesn’t have a computer at home and decides they want to come and participate in the process about their kid’s education? They can’t."

Illinois Attorney General Communications Director Natalie Bauer told WBEZ she received no complaints thus far, and clarified that "no one should be turned away for failure to register in advance if they want to attend a meeting—if there is space in the room."

Of course there's a story of how someone was almost turned away despite doing everything right.

To wit: South Side NAACP member Ronald Jackson:

Jackson is a regular at board meetings and said he has never been turned away before. He said he did register in advance, but security guards told him he wasn't on the list. He then asked for a pass to the school district's Law Department. He said he explained the situation to a staffer there, then was kept waiting for a half hour. He said he was ready to go to jail...

Jackson was eventually let into an overflow room with fewer than a dozen other people.

WBEZ also reported that several people said they saw school district employees turning potential attendees Wednesday.

A CPS spokeswoman wrote to WBEZ to say it is updating its guidelines on advance registration, so that it will be requested, but not required.

Here's what the state's Open Meetings Act law says:

In order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The General Assembly further declares it to be the public policy of this State that its citizens shall be given advance notice of and the right to attend all meetings at which any business of a public body is discussed or acted upon in any way.

Exceptions to the public's right to attend exist only in those limited circumstances where the General Assembly has specifically determined that the public interest would be clearly endangered or the personal privacy or guaranteed rights of individuals would be clearly in danger of unwarranted invasion.

So let's see how the next one goes, shall we? After all, it's not as if these type of mismanagements tend toblow up in CPS' face or anything.