The School Reform Board of Trustees recently modified its controversial “educational crisis” policy, but some reform activists say it still needs fine-tuning.

The changes “moved the policy in the right direction,” says Ken McNeil, executive director of the CityWide Coalition for School Reform. But some of the 15 criteria outlined in the policy remain too vague, he argues, and in some instances may be in conflict with the Illinois School Code.

Reform activists denounced the policy when it was first adopted last fall, saying the board had grabbed too much power and had failed to get input from the school community first. In response, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas called for public hearings and put a Dec. 31, 1995 sunset date on the old version of the policy. (See Catalyst, November 1995.)

CityWide is considering a lawsuit if the board uses the policy to intervene too quickly, McNeil says. So far, however, the group is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

The new version of the policy

Eliminates a catch-all provision under which the CEO could consider unspecified “other factors” in deciding to declare a school in crisis.

Requires the School Board, rather than the chief executive officer, to approve the following remedial actions against schools: ordering new local school council elections, reconstituting the school staff, and placing a school on remediation or probation.

Requires the CEO to give written notification to all parties before declaring a school in crisis. The notification must detail the specific facts or allegations that led to the decision.

Requires the CEO to outline, in writing, the actions he or she plans to take to resolve the schools’ problems, and an explanation of why less drastic action will not work.

Includes staff performance (for instance, failure to resolve disputes or refusal to follow the school improvement plan) as part of the 15 criteria.

The new version also states that a school should be declared in crisis only “in extreme situations where the problem is schoolwide” and has resulted in “a pervasive breakdown” of school operations or education, or in “a significant threat to safety and well-being of students or staff.”

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