School & District Management Opinion

Michelle Gunderson: Chicago School Officials Question Children Who Opt Out: Intimidation?

By Anthony Cody — March 23, 2014 2 min read
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Guest post by Michelle Gunderson.

Chicago Public School officials sank to a new and unprecedented low this week. Children whose parents opted them out of testing were pulled from classrooms and questioned by officials from the district law office without parents’ knowledge or consent. Parents, teachers, and community members are livid - and justly so.

When my son heard of small children (some as young as 8 years old) being questioned, he asked that I write this note on his arm with a Sharpie as an act of protest. “You may not speak to my son without my permission.”

These photos are meant to be disturbing and provocative.

The visual impact of my son being “branded” on his forearm is intentional. He is in eighth grade, asked to be opted out, and is the son of an activist. He can hold his own. Imagine, though, being an 8 year old and a child whose primary language is not English.

When angry parents and community members questioned whether or not these actions were legal, CPS spokesperson Joel Hood said, “I’m not sure what would make it illegal.”

The district claimed it was acting in loco parentis. Bruce Boyer and Stacey Platt, law professors from the Civitas program at Loyola University stated, in loco parentis is not a “license for schools and school districts to investigate and intimidate children, families, and their community supporters. Such activities, rather than helping students, harm them and their families, in violation of the doctrine’s purpose.”

I have read this and many different opinions of the legality of these actions over the past two days, and CPS seems to be walking on “iffy” legal ground. But morally there is no question. Pulling children from classrooms to question them about their parents’ decisions and their teachers’ actions without parental consent is really, really WRONG.

Several weeks ago I wrote an Administrator’s Pledge for Ethical Treatment of Students Who Opt Out. There is no way that I could have imagined at that time that people who work for a school system, whose purpose it is to educate and care for children, would take such actions.

A new declaration needs to be added to the pledge:

Administrators need to pledge to inform parents and ask their consent should any district personnel want to pull their children from their classroom in front of their peers into a room with a closed door to be interrogated by the legal department.

What do you think of the questioning of children in this manner?

Michelle Gunderson is a 27 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction.

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.