CHATHAM — State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) is urging a community group to file a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools for not complying with a 22-year-old state law that requires all public elementary and high schools to include black history as part of its regular curriculum.
"I encourage you to file a lawsuit against CPS to make them comply with the state law," Flowers said at a Saturday meeting with community group We Can Inc. at Josephine's Cooking restaurant, 436 E. 79th St. "Our kids are way behind in elementary school, high school and college when you compare them to students in other countries like China."
In 1986, Flowers sponsored a state law, which took effect in 1991, mandating public schools make black history a part of their regular curriculum and not just taught during Black History Month in February.
"The proposed curriculum CPS has presented is unacceptable," said Florence Cox, president of We Can Inc. and the first black president of the Chicago Board of Education. "It lacks our history and language arts. There is nothing in here about who [African Americans] are and where we came from."
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief executive officer for CPS, did not attend the meeting, but was represented by Phillip Hampton, chief community and family officer for CPS.
"Barbara needs to meet with you. I do know she is aware of this situation," Hampton told the community group. "I will speak with her on Monday and elevate this issue to her, so that by Tuesday you have a response back. "
State Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) attended the last meeting held on Jan. 27. At that meeting she said too many black kids are attending schools named after blacks, and the students don't even realize it.
"Most of the students who attend Paul Robeson High School [on the South Side] don't know anything about him other than he is a black man," said Davis. "And that's a shame."
According to CPS data, 99 percent of the students at Paul Robeson are black, and at William Harper High School, also on the South Side, 93 percent of the students are black.
John Thuet, 28, teaches world studies to freshmen at Harper High School and has worked at the school the last four years, but he doesn't know who William Harper is.
"You know, that's a good question. I don't know who William Harper is, but now that you've asked I plan on looking him up to see," Thuet, who also chairs the school's history department, said.
Examples like this, said Hampton, are not good, but fall within the leadership of the school.
"We have a lot of challenges with teachers. When I was a business teacher at DuSable High School, I made sure my students knew who [Jean Baptiste Point] DuSable was, even though I was not a history teacher," said Hampton.
Possible school closings also werendiscussed at the meeting.
Many of the 129 elementary schools CPS is considering closing in June are located in black neighborhoods on the South and West Side, said Flowers.
While Hampton acknowledged that the recently released list contains "many schools on the South and West Sides," he denied Flowers' allegations that those areas were targeted by design.
"None of these schools being considered for closure are overcrowded," Hampton said. "As for the empty school buildings, once the closure process is complete, the buildings would probably be sold."
The method CPS is using to determine which schools to close is a broken formula, added Flowers.
"School closings are done purposely to drive [black] kids out of certain areas experiencing gentrification," said Flowers. "The closings of these schools are criminal."