THE LOOP — The Board of Education was ferociously criticized by parents and teachers Wednesday over last week's investigation at two schools that have become flash points in a fight over a controversial state test.
"What were you thinking?" Drummond Montessori parent Mary Zerkel said in addressing the board at Wednesday's meeting. "Who the heck thought it was a good idea to send an investigator in to question kids?"
CPS investigators questioned students at Drummond in Bucktown last Thursday about "alleged" teacher involvement in a campaign to "opt out" of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. They went on to Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Little Village on Friday, where CPS officials said they did not question students, but parents and teachers said otherwise.
"This investigation has backfired on CPS," said Drummond parent Anne Carlson. "Parents and teachers and students are livid that you would try to drive a wedge between children and their teachers.
"Children want to learn and teachers want to teach," she added. "And you pulled children out of class, robbing them of instructional time, to snitch on their teachers."
Jennifer Biggs of the grassroots group Raise Your Hand said parents were "horrified and felt completely disrespected" by the probe. She said she had opted her children out of the test, and she coached her kids Friday morning to "don't say a word" if confronted by CPS investigators.
Several parents pointed out that Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett had sent out a letter saying parents could "opt out" their children from taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test — a position echoed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — only to reverse field and say it was required of all students.
On Wednesday, Byrd-Bennett did not back down in the face of criticism, saying, "CPS is obligated to investigate allegations of staff misconduct around ISAT testing in a handful of situations.
"These investigations are not focused on parent or student conduct," she added. "They are focused on alleged CPS staff conduct."
Parents have suggested CPS is conducting a "witch hunt" against teachers who might have supported an ISAT boycott. Opponents point out the test is being phased out and is no longer used by CPS for promotions or in the selective-enrollment process.
Byrd-Bennett said, "Some parents or students may have information or knowledge that could be relevant to the investigation, and it would be inappropriate if CPS failed to pursue these allegations in light of state and federal requirements."
The ISAT is required by state and federal law and failure to administer the tests threatens funding, officials have said.
Byrd-Bennet said she is "confident that this investigation has been and will continue to be conducted professionally and appropriately by our team."
Saucedo parent Maribel Martinez said students who opted out at the school were placed 40 or 50 in a single room, with some forced to sit on the floor.
"I'm not comfortable with what happened at my school," said Saucedo parent Juanita Torres. "Stop questioning our students."
"Our school did not respect our parents' decision," said Martha Arriaga, a kindergarten teacher at Saucedo. She said the decision to opt out belonged entirely to parents and called for "no retaliation to our teachers."
"You shouldn't punish teachers for standing up for our children," said Rousemary Vega, a Pritzker Elementary School parent.
"We do not want any retaliation against these teachers," Zerkel added.
"It is disturbing to me, the witch-hunt atmosphere," said Matthew Luskin, a teacher and a parent of students at Whitney Young High School and LaSalle Language Academy.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called the ISAT a "meaningless" test, but basically threw up her hands in addressing the board on the matter, saying, "Do what you have to do."
CTU has previously made it clear it will defend any teacher accused of misconduct over administering the test.