planning on a whiteboard

Bumbling through CPS School Transfer, Part III: Backup Plans

This is the third post in a series. You can also read Part I and Part II by clicking the hyperlinks.

Even though Youngest’s Mamá and I are now officially comadres, I still don’t really know if temporary guardianship is good enough to get Youngest back into Great Neighborhood School. The Loyola child law clinic guidance warns readers: Sometimes schools and doctors do not honor short-term guardianships. This can lead to problems with getting your children medical care and educational services.

So, before I take our new arrangement over to Great Neighborhood School, I need to do two things: make some backup plans, and preview it with a real-live CPS principal. Fortunately, thanks to my line of work for the last 20 years, I know a fair number of principals.

From the beginning of this journey, my number one backup plan has been contacting San Miguel School. It’s a Catholic middle school in our neighborhood that works very hard to make sure students who come in behind academically catch up fast. And now, after almost a year and a half out of in-person school, who isn’t behind?

They are looking for more students, too. On a walk to drop off library books, I passed the school and they had applications in a waterproof box out in front of the building. So I took one out and brought it home. A few days later, I had time to sit down and read it. It says they are only accepting sixth- and seventh-graders.

This doesn’t worry me too much. I used to know a great teacher at San Miguel but he’s not there anymore. Still, I have some contacts in the neighborhood who know the school and might help me persuade them to take an eighth-grader. I’m also pretty confident I can raise whatever chunk of the $2K tuition Youngest’s parents can’t pay themselves.

This might be easier than trying to get back into Great Neighborhood School. All of this is so wrong–shouldn’t every kid in Chicago, every kid in the United States, go to a great neighborhood school?

They should. But that’s not the city, or the country, we live in right now.

A Talk with Principal Nice Guy

To preview our case to get Youngest back into Great Neighborhood School, I reached out to another local principal, whom I’ll call Mr. Nice Guy. Mr. Nice Guy has been working very hard to transform a school in our neighborhood that had historically been troubled, and he’s starting to get results. We’ll call his school Upswing Elementary.

I happen to know Mr. Nice Guy is pretty easy to reach on Fridays right after school. So, once I put all these pieces together, I ran the situation by him.

“If you were coming to me with that paperwork, I’d let him in,” he said. Mr. Nice Guy also let me know his eighth-grade classes only have 22 kids in each room–they had just enough students to open a third classroom and spread them all out. During our conversation, I didn’t say it explicitly, but mentally I added Upswing Elementary to my backup plans.

Launching Operation Return to Great Neighborhood School

The following week, I sent an email to the principal of Great Neighborhood School, as follows.

Dear Mr. Principal:

Former Great Neighborhood School student [Youngest] and his family are in a difficult immigration situation. We are discussing having me assume temporary guardianship. 

As I understand this CPS policy, if I assume temporary guardianship [Youngest] would be able to transfer to [Great Neighborhood School] from his current school, [Not-So-Great Elementary]. Policy attached as amended July 2021. Could we make an appointment to discuss the situation? His mother and I are available…

And I wait.

Great Neighborhood Principal is usually very on top of his email, but I waited 24 hours and there was no response. “Whoa,” I thought. “Something must be wrong. Is he not principal any more? I better go over there.”

By now it’s a Friday morning. Before taking my own daughter to school, I ran over to Great Neighborhood School hoping to see the principal directing traffic at the car line, which he has been known to do. I don’t find him but I find the AP I knew when my daughter was a student and who helped us with our transfer.

AP and I smiled and waved to each other. I walked up and asked, “Do you remember Youngest?”

“Sure!”

I explained the situation, briefly. AP’s normally kind, open face turned angry and suspicious. “Is he going to live with you?” he snapped.

“Not yet,” I answered. “I don’t want to take him away from his family…” AP’s face relaxed.

We discussed the details of the CPS policy. He promised he would call downtown to find out if this guardianship agreement is legitimate. I promised I would come back in the afternoon with the paperwork.

That afternoon, Mamá, Youngest and I came back with a stack of documents, including the CPS-required notarized letter with the parent’s signature, after going to three different currency exchanges in search of a notary and also having to reprint the document at the Back of the Yards branch because the notary we finally found wouldn’t accept Mamá’s signature because it didn’t match the one on her matricula (Mexican ID). (She signed her matricula with her maiden name plus “de —-,” Mexican-style, but she signed the letter the U.S. way, with just her husband’s last name. The notary made her do it over, so we went to the library to print a clean copy.)

When we arrived, it was dismissal time, an hour later than we had planned. AP greeted Youngest warmly.

His greetings to me? Not so warm. “This is not a good time to talk,” AP said. “But you can go in the office and have them copy your documents.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Thanks. We’ll get the documents copied,” I said. When we went in the foyer, the security guards and other adults all recognized Youngest. They gave him fist bumps and high-fives and marveled at how much he had grown.

Inside the office, the secretary informed me a Comcast bill doesn’t count for residency. Oops. I promised her I’d print out one of my e-bills from Com Ed and bring it back on Monday.

I still didn’t know what happened to Great Neighborhood School’s principal. While getting the paperwork copied, I watched teachers clock out. Everyone looked exhausted. One staff person who always looks super-put-together, like model-worthy, looked like she hadn’t had time to wash her hair in a week.

“Wow,” I thought. “I knew it was hard on teachers this year, but it’s rough to see it up close like this.”

Meanwhile, we still didn’t know whether Great Neighborhood School would accept Youngest. I held on to my backup plans and was trying to think of more. The next day, I got an unexpected call from Great Neighborhood Principal, but you’ll have to read the next installment to find out what he said.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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