BUCKTOWN — Some parents outraged over Chicago Public Schools interviewing children without parental consent in a probe into standardized testing at a Bucktown school said Monday they want the district to give them transcripts of the conversations.
The transcript request was one of a number of approaches angry parents and teachers suggested during a Local School Council meeting in the wake of last week's CPS investigation into testing at Thomas Drummond Montessori School.
Representatives from the CPS Law Department showed up at Drummond, 1845 W. Cortland St., on Thursday morning and began, without obtaining permission from parents, questioning students about a boycott at the school of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
“I’m irate," Carlos Martinez, whose daughter was questioned, said at Monday's LSC meeting at the school. The questioning of Martinez' 12-year-old made the child feel "like she was the bad guy," he said.
Parents have expressed interest in talking to lawyers about potential legal issues of what happened and want transcripts of the conversations between CPS law department officials and students, LSC Chairman Jonathan Goldman said at the meeting.
The student questioning was related to a decision earlier this month by some teachers and parents to skip the ISAT, which is given to grades 3 through 8 but is set to be to be nixed next year. The boycott of the state-required ISAT was a protest of what some consider an unproductive "culture of testing" in schools.
At Drummond, which has 350 students in grades K through 8, an estimated two-thirds of eligible students did not take the test. Goldman said it was unclear how many students from Drummond were questioned Thursday.
Tricia Black, who teaches Drummond students in first, second and third grades and boycotted the standardized test, said she was "shocked" to learn that one of her students had been questioned alone.
"When they asked to send down a child from my classroom, if I had known that that child would be alone behind a closed door, I would have said 'no'," Black said. “I didn’t realize that it was that level of intimidation.”
Black offered to deliver written statements from parents to CPS investigators if it could help prevent similar questioning in the future.
As parents started to hear of the investigations on Thursday, at least 50 of them made calls to the school demanding that their children not be interviewed, Goldman said.
An investigator Goldman encountered on Thursday told him that the law department had authority to question kids under the doctrine of in loco parentis, meaning "in the place of a parent," according to Goldman.
At Monday's meeting, Goldman read aloud a letter from the Chicago Board of Education, which said CPS investigations at Drummond and other schools were "in response to complaints and allegations of inappropriate conduct on the part of CPS employees" related to the administration of the ISAT.
Addressing parent complaints that CPS investigators interviewed children without permission, the letter, signed by Chicago Board of Education General Council James Bebley, said that board personnel "stand in the relation of parents and guardians to pupils when students are at school."
Bebley wrote that because "students are often the only persons with knowledge of conduct of our employees, consequently we have interviewed students outside the presence of their parents/guardians about alleged employee misconduct."
"However, we welcome your feedback on this topic and will take your concerns into consideration going forward in this investigation," Bebley said in the letter.
Some parents expressed concern and confusion over what in loco parentis could be used for and what its limits are. Others suggested that parents contact state legislators and pressure lawmakers to redefine state law.
“We really need to pursue this legally to make sure that this doesn’t happen again," Drummond parent Carlos Claudio said. "... We can’t allow them to continue to use that moving forward, and there needs to be some clarity as to what that policy is."
CPS did not immediately respond for comment or to give details of what's next in the investigation.
"We bring our children here for a safe haven," said Martinez. "It’s safe here for our children. And you [CPS] violated that. This cannot happen again."
Contributing: Alisa Hauser, Ted Cox