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CPS Officials Question Bucktown Kids Over Opting Out of ISATs

By  Alisa Hauser and Ted Cox | March 20, 2014 4:11pm | Updated on March 20, 2014 5:01pm

 Drummond School, a CPS magnet Montessori School at 1845 W. Cortland St. in Bucktown.
Drummond School, a CPS magnet Montessori School at 1845 W. Cortland St. in Bucktown.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

BUCKTOWN —  Fury is spreading among some parents of children at a Bucktown public school where investigators from the Chicago Public School's Law Department have been taking students out of classrooms and questioning them behind closed doors, sources confirmed Thursday.

Representatives from the Chicago Public Schools Law Department came to Thomas Drummond Montessori School, 1845 W. Cortland St., on Thursday morning, said Local School Council Chairman Jonathan Goldman.

Goldman said he believes the district is investigating why 125 students opted out of taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and any role teachers may have played in that decision.

The ISAT is a standardized test administered to children in grades 3 through 8 every year, but is being retired at the end of this year.

 CTU organizer Norine Gutekanst, seen at a Board of Education meeting, says teachers did nothing wrong at Drummond and the union will defend them "if that's necessary."
CTU organizer Norine Gutekanst, seen at a Board of Education meeting, says teachers did nothing wrong at Drummond and the union will defend them "if that's necessary."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

A source within the school confirmed that the lawyers were there into the midafternoon Thursday, and CPS confirmed it as well.

"Chicago Public Schools is meeting and talking with students, teachers and staff at Drummond Elementary School about ISAT testing to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "CPS officials only spoke with students who opted to talk with them, and the investigation does not pertain to any student disciplinary issue. Students who chose not to take the state-required ISAT test last week do not face discipline from the district."

"They are interviewing kids without parents' permission," Goldman said, adding, "My next guess is this is a witch hunt aimed at the teachers who are active on this issue, and they are trying to use young kids as pawns."

"If that's the case, interviewing children and trying to get them to ... speak against their own teacher, that would be really putting the child in just a terrible position," said Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Norine Gutekanst. "We would never support any educator doing that.

"We're very concerned with them putting children in the middle here," she added, "and possibly eroding the trust that exists between a child and his or her teacher."

Some Drummond teachers boycotted administering the test earlier this month, along with teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Little Village, but Gutekanst emphasized that the decision to opt out belonged to parents alone.

The number of children who opted out at Drummond represents about two-thirds of those eligible to take the test, Goldman said.

Goldman, who was alerted to the private interviews taking place around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, said he immediately went to the school and issued an alert on a private Facebook page for parents and on Twitter.

"CPS Law Dept is at Drummond school interviewing kids without parents' permission. I believe they are investigating teachers re ISATs," Goldman tweeted around 11 a.m. Thursday.

Goldman said that while visiting the school Thursday, CPS lawyer Raymond Poloko said the Board of Education has authority under a parens patrie doctrine (in the shoes of the parent) to interview students without parental consent.

Poloko did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the school's building administrator, Colette Unger-Teasley.

Unger-Teasley is serving as the school's temporary principal following the resignation of Drummond's longtime principal Mark Neidlinger last summer.

Meanwhile, the school —  which serves about 350 students in grades K-8 and is one of only three Montessori schools in the CPS system — has been flooded with calls from parents, who have been calling the school to say they do not want their children to be interviewed.

"We do not have an exact number, there have been so many calls. We are writing down the names of parents that call in and are not guaranteeing that their children are not being interviewed because many have already been interviewed," a source with the school told DNAinfo Chicago.

Mary Zerkel, the parent of a sixth-grader at Drummond, is among the several parents who called the school to say she does not want her child to be interviewed by CPS without her permission.

"It would be a very intimidating thing for a child to go through. As a parent I am thinking I can't get to my kid right now," Zerkel said.

Zerkel said she does not know if her 11-year-old daughter was among those interviewed by CPS lawyers.

Zerkel said she opted her daughter out of the ISAT because she and her husband are "against excessive standardized testing" and in particular the ISAT, which she described as "a very stress-inducing test and since it is not counted for anything [next year] there seemed to be no reason."

She continued, "I am anxious for my daughter and for all the kids who are potentially being interviewed. This tactic of going in and interviewing children without their parents' consent is another example of how far [CPS] is willing to go to enforce this rule about the test. It's completely crazy."

Zerkel said she was not able to get a hold of the assistant principal or Unger-Teasley but told one office worker she did not want her daughter interviewed.

Goldman said his "biggest concern is they are talking to kids without their parent's permission."

"CPS said very publicly there will be repercussions for teachers involved [in boycotting the ISAT] and this could be the first step in the process," Goldman said.

"I don't believe that our members have done anything wrong. Our members want to teach," Gutekanst said. "We will defend our members if that's necessary.

"We'll be following this, and I hope it's not going to happen at any other schools," she added. "I think it's outrageous."