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Military occupies Chicago Board of Education meeting


See the picture of this extraordinary occupation.

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Read this story in the context of other military recruitment outrages, most recently NCLB has the National Guard teamed up with NASCAR to deliver health curriculum to 6th graders.

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By George N. Schmidt

(CHICAGO) More than a dozen active duty United States Marines and Army formed
a perimeter around the meeting room of the Chicago Board of Education prior
to the Board�s November 14, 2007, meeting, apparently prepared to raise
objections to a Board Report which would restrict military recruiters� access to
Chicago�s high schools.

The soldiers and Marines, who have been confirmed by military officials as
members of the armed forces on active duty, were present at the beginning of the
meeting, standing along the walls of the meeting room and posted at the two
public entrances to the room.

The military people remained standing during the early parts of the Board�s
meeting, but departed soon after a female Iraq War veteran, Patricia McCann,
began speaking describing her experiences with recruiting fraud while she was a
high school student and her subsequent treatment while in the Army, both in
Iraq, during her term of service, and subsequently.

Those of us who arrived at the Board before the official beginning of the
meeting noticed that more than a dozen uniformed Marines and soldiers were
standing along the walls inside the Board chambers.

One of them was wearing desert combat fatigues and combat boots.

Another dozen or so Marines (most in uniform) were sitting in the Board
chambers near Alderman James Balcer (D-11th Ward, Bridgeport, etc), who sat a few
rows behind the Press section.

Seven individuals (including Balcer) were signed up to speak on military
recruiting, and five of those identified themselves in the public participation
agenda as members of the military (three National Guard and two Marine Corps).
There were enough empty seats in the Board chambers for all of the standing
Marines (and one Army person) to have seated themselves, so it was clear that
they had either chosen to stand deployed around the perimeter of the room (with
one at each of the entrances) or had been ordered to do so (remember: these are
active duty military people: they are under orders and subject to the Uniform
Code of Military Justice -- which is very different from the way the law
works for you, me, and Arne Duncan).

By 10:30 a.m. on November 14, there were more than 50 people seated in the
"holding room" on the 19th floor watching the Board meeting on closed circuit
TV, even though many of them were part of groups signed up to speak (the largest
I saw was from UNO Charter Schools). Typically, the Chicago Board of
Education holds its meetings in a room which is too small for all those who wish to
attend, so the remaining people are placed in what has been called the "holding
room" on the 19th floor of the same building at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago.
The Board meets in a special meeting room on the 5th floor.

The Board�s monthly meetings generally consist of three parts. First, the
Board honors various individuals and groups. Second, the Board listens to "Public
Participation" from people who wish to bring their concerns democratically
before the Board. Each person wishing to participate in public participation
signs in between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on the day of the meeting. Their names are
then printed in a "Public Participation" list before the Board convenes at
approximately 10:30. After public participation ends, the Board convenes its
regular meeting, which usually hears executive reports before going into executive
session. The Board comes out of executive session to vote on its agenda items
(or, in the case of the most controversial one on the November 14 agenda, table
them) by dinner time, then adjourns for the month.

Since the Chicago Board of Education was reorganized in 1995 under the
complete control of Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Board has abolished all committees
and ended all public meetings except the monthly meeting. For more than eight
years, the Board has approved every item on its public agenda � more than
5,000 pieces of business � without discussion or debate. The members of the Board
and the school system�s CEO (currently Arne Duncan) are both appointed by the
mayor.

Although the opening of the public participation portion of the meeting was
again delayed by various honoraria and the usual VIP speaking (Alderman Balcer
was placed in front of all the other signed in speakers, as is traditional
with the Board when elected officials show up), it had begun by 11:00 (when Board
President Rufus Williams called on Ald. Balcer).

Balcer didn't mention any Board Report on recruitment policy in his remarks.
He was merely repeating what he has already made clear to the public on
hundreds of occasions -- that he feels that his service in the Marine Corps during
the Vietnam War changed his life for the better, and that he is glad he was
recruited.

The regular public participation then began. During that time, I generally
try to photograph all of the people speaking and rarely leave the space where
photographers are confined.

The fourth or fifth person to speak (Number 5 on the Public Participation
Agenda, which is often adjusted during the meeting) was Patricia McCann, who was
identified at being with "Iraq Veterans Against War, Coalition Against
Militarization of Schools." McCann spoke about how she was recruited while still a
student in high school, how she served in Iraq, and her experiences as a woman
in the Army and since.

A report on McCann�s comments aired on Chicago�s WBBM "newsradio" station
(the local CBS radio station) the day of her comments and covered fairly her
public remarks and the comments she made to reporters (from at least five media
outlets, including Channel 2 and the Tribune) in back of the Board chambers
after she spoke. During both her remarks and press comments she was accompanied
by two people from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

But by the time McCann had finished speaking, all of the uniformed military
people in the room had left the Board chambers and (apparently) Board
headquarters.

And when they were called to speak, they weren't there. Only a young man
named David Askew, wearing a suit and introducing himself as an attorney, spoke
in favor of military recruiting in the schools (in addition to Balcer). None of
the five men identified as Marines and soldiers spoke or was present by the
time they were reached on the agenda.

During the time this was taking place, I was photographing the speakers
(generally) as I usually do, so I didn't even see the uniformed military people
leaving. However, I did see Patrick Rocks, the Board's attorney, and he did not
leave his place during that time. Two hours later, he reported that the
recruiting policy would not be voted on that day.

A spokesman for the military told me later that the uniformed military people
had left when they were informed that the agenda item was not going to be
voted on that day. When I asked him how they could know that the item had been
tabled, he said he didn't know. (Rocks had placed the item on the agenda, and
the item was still on the agenda when I picked up the full agenda on the Sixth
Floor early that morning).

After trying to learn why the military people had left so abruptly, I was
finally called by Lt. Col. Brian Redmon, Commander of the Recruiting Batallion,
Illinois National Guard. My question, left earlier with the Guard�s press
office, was why the military people had signed up to speak and then left. "Alderman
Balcer had spoken and the issue [we were concerned about] was tabled," Redmon
told Substance. "I got word that it was tabled."

The question of who told the military people that the issue had been tabled
was not answered.

I'm still reporting what happened and why, and am only sad that I didn't turn
from Patricia McCann to see the Marines and soldiers leaving the Board
chambers during her powerful remarks (accurately reflected in John Cody's report).
The uniformed people were clearly not available to be interviewed by the press
by the time McCann completed her mini-press conference behind the Board
chambers at about 11:30 a.m. and were nowhere to be found.

At that point, there were still dozens of people up in the "holding room" on
the 19th floor, while more than two dozen seats in the main chambers were
empty, including all of those that had been occupied by military personnel.

One of the things I'm trying to report is why uniformed active duty military
personnel had shown up at a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education in force
on November 14, 2007, and why they redeployed out of the Board chambers prior
to 11:30 that morning.

All of these questions are still relevant to any complete report (in context)
of these matters. Men and women on active duty in the military are not free
agents. They go where ordered, they leave when ordered, and they do as ordered.
I've gotten some answers from spokesmen for the recruiting people in
Illinois, and have received other information from others.

Since we report on a monthly cycle, there is time for me to flesh out this
report, and I will. I haven't published the photographs from the Board meeting
anywhere yet (originally, I had told some people they would be in a Substance
Web special on the Substance website at www.substancenews.net, but would rather
have more of the story sourced before doing that).

I'd be glad to hear from anyone who knows the answer to my three main
questions now. Usually, as friends know, I downplay the importance of the "Why"
question in the big five for news reports. "If you've got the who, what, when and
where you can leave the why to a priest or psychiatrist..."

But in the case of this story, the "Why" is the biggest questions. (That's a
deliberate plural).

Why did CPS withdraw a Board Report it had placed on its public agenda and
which remained on that agenda the morning of the November 14, 2007, meeting.

Why were more than a dozen active duty Marines and soldiers ordered to attend
the November 14, 2007 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education and stand
around the perimeter of the meeting room (when seats were available) rather than
seating themselves as everyone else does?

Why did all of the uniformed military personnel at the November 14, 2007
meeting of the Chicago Board of Education retreat from the meeting during the
remarks of a young woman who said that she had been recruited out of high school
into the Army and had served in Iraq during the Iraq War?

I just spent two days reporting what should have been a simple story. Out of
context, the story would have been that CPS withdrew a new policy on recruiter
access to Chicago high schools and will consider the policy again at its
December 19 meeting. But context is everything, and the bland report on Iraq War
veteran Patty McCann's comments on WBBM (the Trib and Sun-Times ignored the
story completely) only touches what was in play in and around the Board
Wednesday.

— George N. Schmidt
Substance

2007-11-17


IL


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