The Furor over Fingerprints for LSC Members

Can CPS protect kids from sexual predators and immigrant parents from deportation at the same time? That’s the question behind the fuss over fingerprinting for undocumented LSC members. (According to a Tweet from Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, CEO Janice Jackson said she was “open to dialogue” on the topic.)

In 1999, a state law was passed requiring LSC members to undergo background checks. At the time, both undocumented residents and ex-offenders expressed concern that the requirement would have a chilling effect on parent participation.

Since the law was enacted, enforcement of the background check rule has been spotty. Although candidates must fill out a disclosure form for criminal convictions which informs them a background check and fingerprints will be required, sitting LSC members say that the background check has not been routinely enforced. But this summer, Chicago Public Schools tightened up enforcement in the wake of a Chicago Tribune series, “Betrayed,” that detailed a history of sexual abuse and cover-ups in schools.

The new push comes on the heels of concerns that federal officials could use local databases to search for undocumented immigrants and deport them. Despite Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance, which ensures undocumented residents are not denied city services and prohibits information sharing with federal immigration authorities, there have been slip-ups.

Activists have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking major reforms to the Chicago Police Department’s gang database, through which information is currently shared with federal authorities.

The lawsuit demands tighter restrictions on who is included and an end to information sharing. There have been multiple cases of individuals mistakenly entered in the database. For example, in 2015 an immigrant man was erroneously added to the database. Later, ICE agents arrested him in a raid and placed him in deportation hearings. He was detained for 10 months before being released in January.

Meanwhile, undocumented LSC members must decide whether to step down or take the risk that their information will be shared with federal immigration officials. “If someone else were in the White House, I’d probably take the risk of doing the fingerprints. With this guy, you just don’t know what is going to happen,” said David Tolen, a community representative at New Field. Tolen and fellow New Field LSC members launched a petition to ask CPS to reclassify LSC members as Level 2 volunteers, for whom background checks are not required.

“We recognize it’s state law,” said Annie Gill-Bloyer, also a New Field LSC member. “If we can convince [CPS] we’re more like Level 2 volunteers, CPS could join us in an effort to change the law.” Gill-Bloyer and Tolen argue that LSC members’ official duties are limited to open meetings where children usually are not present. The petition drive has received news coverage and endorsements from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, grassroots community organizations and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Gill-Bloyer has already completed a background check because she is a Level 1 volunteer–working in classrooms more than 10 hours a week–on top of her LSC duties. “If I am a Level 1 volunteer, then yeah, do the background check and all the appropriate things. I think we want to apply screening measures that are smart and don’t have these unintended consequences” of discouraging parent participation.

The intent of the petition drive is to secure CPS support for a legislative effort to amend the current law, organizers say. “The next move would be starting to talk with state legislators,” says Gill-Bloyer.


Photo by Kira auf der Heide for 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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