A few dozen West Side residents learned Saturday about the importance of getting involved in their local schools.
The Better Government Association partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to offer the six-hour, watchdog training workshop
Topics covered included student harassment, civil rights violations, budgeting and local school councils. Also participating in the workshop was the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Local School Council Relations, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Parents United for Responsible Education and Catalyst Chicago magazine.
“We as parents and community people have got a moral obligation to work on the schools, so we can raise doctors and lawyers,” said Wanda Hopkins, assistant director for Parents United for Responsible Education, whose four children attended Chicago Public Schools.
About 30 people listened as she advocated for more parental involvement in local school councils.
“Parents are tired. No one has hope that the new mayor and the board of (education) are going to listen to them,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got to convince them that it’s our children that are being affected, and we’ve got to be involved.”
“Even if they won’t listen to a word we have to say, we’ve got to say it anyway,” she said.
The NAACP sponsors parent conferences twice a year, aiming to ensure parents are well-informed of their rights and give them tools to get more involved in their children’s schools.
“There’s a lot of advocacy that’s needed in education,” said Bernard Clay, chairman of the education committee for the Westside Chicago chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“People need to know when their civil rights are being violated,” said Clay, who’s lived in Austin for 40 years. “Parents need to be able to recognize when their children are being harassed in an educational setting; they need better insight to the bullying situation.”
Camille Lee and Aleeza Strubel, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, provided two, 90-minute training sessions to teach parents and community residents about anti-harassment laws, types of harassment and how to respond if harassment occurs.
Last weekend’s workshop also aimed to educate parents about the need to be aware of budget disbursement and disparity in Chicago Public Schools.
“The more you know, the better,” said Sarah Karp, deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago, who regularly participates in the Better Government Association’s education watchdog training sessions.
Karp showed participants, using Martin A. Ryerson Elementary School as an example, how they could analyze discretionary funding and disbursement. She explained that any parent could go online and get similar information about their children’s school.
“We’ve done a lot of work on inequities in the school district; we analyze the budget every year. And these workshops are an opportunity to give information to people who can use it on a real level,” she said.