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To the Members of the Chicago Board of Education

NOTE: At the end of this statement there were spontaneous cheers from the audience.

To: The Members of the Chicago Board of Education


At the beginning of MacBeth, some of the characters chant:

When shall we three meet again,
When the hurly burley's done,
Ere the battle's lost and won,
Where the place? Upon the heath.
Here to meet with MacBeth…

I'm an English teacher and a very active citizen.

For the past 38 years, my professional and personal life have at times been spent on expanding the First Amendment rights of citizens here in Chicago and elsewhere. These battles of words have been resolved by the courts, a much better way than with the swords used so eloquently in Shakespeare's play.

As you know, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Today I come before you petitioning for a redress of grievances.

I am asking you — petitioning you — for two things:

Rescind a Board report from August 2000 and

2. Restore me with back pay and benefits to my teaching job in Chicago's public schools based on the service I have rendered to the children of this city. You have the power — and, I would argue, the moral obligation — to do both these things.

On August 23, 2000, under a previous CEO and a former Board president, you voted with a great deal of discussion to approve Board Report 00-0823-EX13. That Board Report, basically, fired me from my teaching job at Bowen High School because in my second job as a newspaper editor I had published material highly critical of one of the Board's testing programs at that time, the Chicago Academic Standards Examinations (CASE).

At that time, we (the Board and I, along with the newspaper Substance, which I edited than and now edit again) were involved in complex federal litigation regarding the right of a government entity to copyright important documents and enforce that copyright against a newspaper and its editor.

That case, which ultimately was entitled "Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees v. Substance Inc. and George N. Schmidt", was finally resolved last October when the United States Supreme Court denied our petition for a writ of certiorari. We went to the Supreme Court on our appeal from the decision of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, rendered on December 31, 2003 by Judge Richard Posner, who was speaking for a unanimous three-judge panel which included judges Easterbrook and Rovner.

As you know, you lost on most of the major issues before the court. Although you sued me for $1.4 million, at the end of the litigation your attorneys stipulated that the dollar value of the property you had claimed was zero. Although you claimed an absolute right to maintain the secrecy of standardized tests developed by CPS, Judge Posner ruled, in a droll decision that included turning me into an adjective, that newspapers and the public in general had the right to excerpt tests such as CASE for purposes of public discussion. Where Judge Posner drew the line was at the fact that I had published complete copies of several of the CASE tests — after they had been administered — for purposes of that public critique.

So now it remains for you to develop reasonable policies, such as those that exist in New York, Massachusetts, and Texas, to release items from standardized tests — or the entire tests, with grading rubrics — so that the public can see and discuss the "bottom line" you are using to evaluate children and schools. To date, as far as I know, you have not taken up that invitation.

But that's not mainly why I'm here today.

I'm asking you, in order to complete the circle of justice in this case, to reinstate me to my teaching job at Bowen High School, with back pay and benefits, effective immediately.

By doing so, you will also be giving Chicago principals the right to choose me to teach English at their schools.

As you know, my most recent jobs included editor of Substance, which I am presently doing, and director of school discipline, security and safety for the 37,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. After the upheaval in union leadership last summer, I was again seeking employment. Since September, I have been primarily seeking employment comparable to my previous jobs -- teacher, and security director.

Principals across Chicago have told me that they cannot presently hire me to teach in their schools because of the Board Report I am today asking you to rescind.

As you know, two years ago, you finally dropped the controversial and expensive CASE (Chicago Academic Standards Examination) exam program and, with it, the CAS (Chicago Academic Standards) program as well. Since you eliminated CASE and CAS, you have saved more than $1 million (possibly as much as $3 million) that would have been spent on this program had I not blown the whistle on it back in January 1999, when all this fuss began.

Yet unlike many whistle blowers, I was not only not thanked for my efforts, but during one of the darkest nights of the soul of this institution, fired from my teaching job after a distinguished 28 year career in the classrooms of the inner city high schools of Chicago. Although I ended my career (prematurely, I insist) at Bowen High School, during my years teaching English and other subjects in Chicago's schools, I taught full-time at Collins, Manley, Marshall, DuSable, Tilden, Amundsen and many other general high schools. Although I support the magnet school program and the provisions of choice for certain types of specialty schools (and the eldest of my three sons presently attends Whitney Young Magnet High School), I chose to remain in the inner city general high schools because I believed, and saw the proof of this belief on a regular basis, that my talents and abilities were best spent on those whom some would call "the least of my brethren." As your records show, I graduated in 1969 from the University of Chicago with a dual major, attended DePaul College of Law, but chose then to become a proud public school teacher in Chicago's challenging inner city.

So all I'm asking today is that you restore myself and my family to what's right, and if there be no positions currently available at Bowen High School(s), I will enter the choice programs and seek work at one of Chicago's general public high schools. Since principals have told me they can't hire me until that Board Report is rescinded, I think we can solve a lot of problems by this method.

I've always believed that in questions of justice and the rights of others in the United States, we should not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

I have done so in this city with the First Amendment. Since 1969, when I participated in CAMP v. City of Chicago, through 1976 when I was part of Martin Luther King Jr. Movement v. City of Chicago, to 1980 when I was lead plaintiff in Substitutes United for Better Schools v. Rohter, a small part of my life and career has been devoted to ensuring that our rights -- the rights of all of us -- exist in practice and not just in theory.

"Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees v. Substance and George N. Schmidt" was just the latest in a long line of those cases. Although I disagree with Judge Posner and still believe that test items cannot be adequately critiqued short of the context of the entire test (and am supported in this by state law in New York, Texas, and Massachusetts), the courts have spoken, and it's time for us to move on.

My family and I deserve the rectification of this last injustice, so I hope you will act favorably on this petition of mine, for this redress of grievances. With all due respect to lawyers, I prefer that these matters be dealt with in the hurly burly of public debate and political discussion.

So now, when the hurly burley's done, and the battle's been mostly won on CASE, it's time to meet upon this heath, so that I don't have to go to work in the suburbs teaching rich kids -- or at least those more privileged economically and socially than those to whose education I devoted my professional life.

Once you have taken these two actions, choice truly reigns.

Your public high school principals will have the right to choose a 58-year-old English teacher among their pools of applicants.

Thank you

— George N. Schmidt




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