CPS questions students—without parent consent—in ongoing investigation of their teachers

Law department investigators spent the day questioning kids at Drummond Montessori, where some teachers refused to give the ISAT exam and where more than 100 students opted out of the test.

March 20, 2014

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Students at Drummond Montessori elementary school were questioned today by CPS Law Department officials at school. The district is investigating whether the children's teachers should be disciplined for their participation in a boycott of the state standardized ISAT exam.

Parents at a Chicago elementary school are irate after their children were questioned at school Thursday by CPS officials investigating their teachers.

The district is looking into potential "teacher misconduct" around recent boycotts of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

Parents at Drummond Montessori in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood say they found out through parent e-mails, texts and Facebook messages that Chicago Public Schools Law Department officials were “interrogating” their children at school. Parents say they had no knowledge the interviews were going to take place, and did not give any prior consent.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood acknowledged that investigators from the district’s law department questioned students “about how their teachers had conducted themselves during ISAT testing.”

Drummond is one of two schools where teachers declared publicly that some of them would refuse to administer the ISAT, part of a broader protest against high-stakes standardized testing in schools. 

Activists say more than 125 Drummond students opted out of the exam.  

“We went there specifically to talk to kids who had chosen to opt out of the ISAT,” says Hood, who said investigators asked kids “whether the teacher had actively encouraged them not to take the test,” among other questions.

Mary Zerkel was one of a number of parents who called the school as soon as she heard about the investigation and requested her 11-year-old not be questioned.

“It is so unconscionable. It’s just ethically—it is so wrong,” says Zerkel. “You’re asking a child to implicate their teacher. They’re going to be in a closed-door room with the CPS Law Department where they’re going to be intimidated; how can they even think they’re getting good information out of the children?“

Hood says the district didn’t question kids who refused to be questioned or who asked for a parent—though he could not say whether children were told they actually had that option. Hood says no discipline can come to students from the investigation. He said he did not know why parents weren’t notified.

The chair of Drummond’s local school council, Jonathan Goldman, said he was at the school in the morning and spoke with one of the two investigators he saw there. He said the investigator told him that “CPS had authority to do this, acting under the doctrine of in loco parentis, which means that the Board can stand in for the parents,” said Goldman. “Their moral grounds for doing this is certainly very questionable.”

Drummond teacher Juan Gonzalez, one of the teachers who refused to administer the ISAT when it was given earlier this month, says the district has a right to investigate him. But he says CPS should leave students out of it.

“One of my students at the end of the day was very worried that she was going to be responsible for getting me fired,” said Gonzalez. 

Drummond teachers have said they are afraid of losing their jobs, but felt obligated to take a stand.

“I stand strong  in my decision. I feel I’m on the side of right,” Gonzalez says. “This boycott of the ISAT is not about the ISAT alone,” he says. “It's about the incredible amount of testing that we give our kids.” Gonzalez says the ISAT protest has opened discussion on the issue.

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