DOWNTOWN — When Rousemary Vega screamed at a Chicago Board of Education member and called him a "coward" during a meeting, and her husband fought with security guards as the couple were escorted out, they joined a small list of activists who have been barred from CPS meetings in the past year.
Since December, the district has banned four people from attending the typically contentious meetings, documents obtained by DNAinfo Chicago through a Freedom of Information Act request show. They are the first people banned from the monthly meetings — including one Wednesday — at 125 S. Clark St. under rule changes implemented in August 2013.
Ben Woodard explains how he got the blacklist and why people are on it:
The set of guidelines issued by board president David Vitale dictate the terms of public participation at board meetings and prohibit "unsolicited comments and disruptive behavior. ... If any individual is removed from a meeting as a result of disruptive behavior, then the individual may forfeit their right of reentry to future Chicago Board of Education meetings."
A CPS spokeswoman said the rules "ensure that the public's right to be informed of the Board's proceedings and actions is honored, and not impeded."
In addition to Vega and her husband Jesus Ramos, the other bans were issued after one man allegedly got into an altercation with a speaker at a meeting, while another man allegedly threatened to go to an administrator's home.
But some activists say the bans impede their right to speak freely about big issues facing the city's education system.
"I think it’s a symptom of a totally flawed structure. Sure I get that screaming while someone else is making their point is a problem, but I don’t think banning people is the answer," said Wendy Katten, a parent of a sixth-grader and the director of Raise Your Hand, an education advocacy organization. "What we have here is a major stifling of voices — in all facets."
Vega, who had regularly attended board meetings, said the bans only serve to "silence parents."
Vega, her husband and their four children were attending a meeting in July to speak to the seven-person board after their neighborhood school, Lafayette Elementary School, was closed.
A maximum of 60 members of the public are allowed to sign up to speak for no more than two minutes at meetings. When Vega and her husband spoke out of turn, someone took out their cell phone to record the confrontation as things got heated.
The video, posted to YouTube, shows as many as six security guards pulling the family from the room.
CPS security chief Jadine Chou wrote to Jesus Ramos that his "highly charged disruptive behavior" led to his dismissal.
"Because you were disruptive and you punched, kicked and struck several security personnel, you have forfeited your right of reentry to future Board meetings," the letter read.
In a separate letter to Vega, also dated Aug. 1, Chou alleged the stay-at-home mom of disrupting three previous board meetings. In July, Vega went to the front of the meeting room and began "booing" board member Jessie Ruiz and calling him a "coward," the letter states. The meeting was not the first time she heckled a person in power.
Vega claims the rules only serve to stifle the voices of those opposed to the actions of the board, which included the shuttering of 50 schools in June 2013. She's upset that the guidelines do not allow those banned to appeal the decision.
"I feel like they robbed my voice once again," Vega said. " ... They would rather ban a parent instead of training their security guards to treat and deal with families who come to meetings when there’s emotions and outrage — you can’t blame us for being outraged and emotional."
The first person to be banned under the board's new rules was resident Ronald Jackson in December, according to a letter addressed to him.
Chou alleged that Jackson, who could not be reached for comment, interrupted a person speaking to the board during a meeting in November, asking him, "How much are you being paid?" and calling him a "sellout."
Then, Chou wrote, Jackson pushed past a woman, causing a cut to her ring finger, and provoked "a physical altercation" that caused the speaker's pants to be torn.
Jackson's ban began in December and ended last month, according to the letter.
In May, another man, Ellyson Carter, was banned from meetings until July 2015.
Chou alleges that Carter threatened Chief Officer for Network Support Denise Little at an April board meeting, saying, "You can expect me to come by your house, Denise Little."
Carter declined to comment when reached by phone, but referred questions about the incident to his boss, Katelyn Johnson, the executive director of activist organization Action Now.
"It’s so incredibly heartbreaking on so many levels because the board has made it so incredibly difficult to access them," Johnson said of the bans. "Honestly, since the tenure of Rahm Emanuel, they are untouchable."
Katten, with Raise Your Hand, said she couldn't recall anyone being banned from meetings before December, even though there have been contentious meetings in the past.
Lauren Huffman, a CPS spokeswoman, said those banned from meetings are still able to submit written comments and speak with board members during open office hours.
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