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Education Tue Jan 24 2012

The Mayor's Pre-Screened Education Town Hall

by Katie Osgood

There was quite the hullabaloo this week surrounding a Facebook town hall meeting Mayor Emanuel put on Monday. Late Sunday night I received an email from a teacher at a neighborhood CPS high school saying that the event was happening at that school and they needed enough teachers, parents, and community members to show up. Any interested teachers were told to RSVP immediately. Here's what was in the original e-mail:

A spokesman in the department of communications at CPS contacted me to request hosting Mayor Emanuel's Town Hall Meeting Monday, January 23rd at 5:30 PM at [Name of High School]. A condition and concern however is that there must be a minimum of 15 or 20 people in the audience. The audience should include teachers, parents, students and members of the community. This email serves as a poll to determine how many of you might commit to attending this event. I also need your support to communicate this event to students who might be interested in participating. I am copying the LSC and PAC officers to soli cit parental attendance.

I ask that everyone receiving this email who can commit to attending this event email a confirmation back to me ASAP. You do not need to email me if you cannot attend.

Many concerned teachers jumped at the chance to join in a conversation in a relatively small venue where we could question our city's leader about his controversial education policy. People began mobilizing immediately. It seemed like a fantastic opportunity, almost too good to be true.

It was. Very early Sunday morning, a follow-up email was sent saying:

There has been a huge misunderstanding. Mayor Emanuel WILL NOT be physically present at [Name of High School] for his town hall meeting today. The event will be streamed over the internet. Individuals interested in attending this view only event are welcome to view the event in one of our computer labs. Please see the message below from the CPS department of communications spokesperson.
"Principal [Name] -- I think there may be a misunderstanding. The event at [High School] would be a viewing event so that [High School] parents, teachers, and students, could watch the education town hall with Mayor Emanuel, but Mayor Emanuel will not physically be coming to [Name] High School. The event will be hosted at Westinghouse and will be live-streamed to locations across the city, including Curie, Prosser, Northside, and Julian High Schools. Apologies if I was unclear in my communications about this at any point."

Uh-huh. It was all a "misunderstanding"? That first email was pretty darn specific for a "misunderstanding". I checked the Mayor's office press release sent on January 13, and there was no mention of where the mayor would be for the event. The place they decided on was Westinghouse College Prep, a selective enrollment school. What a choice. The mayor must be allergic to neighborhood public schools.

Interesting that they didn't even inform the school itself until LESS THAN 24 hours before the event and relatively late on a Sunday evening. Curiouser and curiouser...

Also notable that this event was scheduled at the same time as public hearings for schools slated for closure/turnaround down at the Board of Ed, which had many activists engaged tonight. Coincidence?

Of course, most of us who were planning on attending assume that the Mayor's office got wind that many activists were organizing and thus changed the locale very very early on the morning of the event. I heard that some teachers showed up at Westinghouse hoping to join there and were turned away saying only school personnel were allowed.

The town hall itself was extremely disappointing. The questions seemed pre-screened. Despite the fact that some really tough questions were being asked on the internet forum, few if any of the controversial questions even peeked through. As an aside, the Facebook forum was 100% unhappy, angry, passionate commenters ALL calling out the Mayor's outrageous statements. But I have to say that the Mayor has some killer PR folks working for him. What aired was quite the manufactured production.

Picking a fight with the city's teachers and then running and hiding in friendly safe places is unseemly. At the very least the Mayor should have the decency to listen to the people you are bullying.

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