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Peace circles not so peaceful in Oak Park District 97 – Two hours of teacher/parent public comment on a devolving culture under the mantle of equity

“you know what they say at Julian Mom, fire alarms, fights, and what the F is happening now” (parent quote from meeting)

The D97 board meeting May 28th lasted nearly five hours with the first two taken up by over a dozen courageous teachers, and a similar number of parents, telling stories of student-on-student and student-on-teacher violence, classroom chaos, utter disregard for authority, teachers disciplined for restoring order, and administrators hiding what’s happening inside the school.

Teachers, mostly from Julian and Brooks Middle Schools in Oak Park, appeared organized in their attempt to convey to anyone listening the current situation on student behavior and the policies limiting student discipline.  Each speaker had a few minutes, and they organized themselves to cover a range of problems not limited to: extreme tardiness, daily fist fights, social media sites dedicated to capturing said fights, cell phone interruptions, district data manipulation, teacher resignations, and too few instructional minutes.  All of this linked back to a decline in school culture and greater concerns over student and staff safety.

Courage is the appropriate word, and there was plenty of common sense behind concerns.  If you listen, and you should listen to the first two hours, you’ll hear how many other teachers were too afraid to attend the meeting because as it turns out, retribution for doing the right thing, is a real thing.

The icing on the donut - the D97 superintendent’s inability to address safety concerns after listening to all this. Imagine a parent at the podium telling a story of their child punched repeatedly in the face and neck while the teacher stands by, and the superintendent can’t find a way to apologize for this?  Imagine a teacher sharing that individual students had been tardy over 100 times, and the district protects its reputation by re-coding some tardy days as “vacation” instead.   Could she not condemn data manipulation and misleading the community? 

Instead, the superintendent launched into talk of herself, “the work”, eating sweets together at morning meetings, and collaborating with community, a message that sent several attendees out the door in a rightful huff.  (Listen until this part.)

Yes, it was courage and common sense, and not racism, not bigotry, not female fragility or toxic masculinity, or even cicada hate, that won this day.  Teachers and parents caring for their kids education and safety, and using specific examples to hold their school leaders accountable.  The first two hours are a must listen.

P.S. The “peace circle” is one restorative justice practice; restorative justice is newer policy adopted by D90, D97, and D200 meant to soften discipline and keep kids in school.  It’s still unclear how the peace circle works after a student squares off against another person – ask your school administrator.

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