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Chicago schools CEO Jackson keeps cool at House hearing after GOP lawmaker presses her about immigrant students


Sept. 12, 2019

WASHINGTON — Leaving the friendly confines of Chicago, a sanctuary city welcoming immigrants — illegal or legal — Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson kept her cool at a hearing here Wednesday as Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., pressed her on data collected about immigrant students.
Grothman vaulted from a question about the parents of immigrant students to wondering if the folks who run the Chicago schools have, in case of an emergency, contacts for a parent or legal guardian of a student. Now that’s just ridiculous because — and does this really need to be said — of course this information is required for all the kids, as Jackson made very clear.
Jackson is no stranger to adversarial situations — she deals with the Chicago Teachers Union — but there is little daylight between most of Chicago’s leaders when it comes to shared core values about immigrants — legal or otherwise — who make their homes in Chicago.
From City Hall to the Chicago Public Schools, to the Chicago Police Department to Cook County government, to the Illinois governor and legislative leaders to the CTU — there is resistance to helping the anti-immigrant President Donald Trump and his Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents round up folks. We argue about other things in deep blue Democratic Chicago, but not that.
Jackson traveled to the Capitol to testify at a hearing of the House Education and Labor’s Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee.
Since the House is controlled by Democrats, the agenda of the panel is set by Democrats.
The hearing was titled, “The Importance of Trauma-Informed Practices in Education to Assist Students Impacted by Gun Violence and Other Adversities” and was chaired by Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan, a Democrat from the Northern Mariana Islands.
Bear with me as I digress, since the Northern Mariana reference may throw you. The House has five delegates — from D.C., American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands. The lawmaker from Puerto Rico is called a resident commissioner. None of this group of six can vote on the House floor.
There are no Illinois lawmakers on this subcommittee.
Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fl., who was former President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary, unwittingly gave Grothman an opening when she asked about whether the Trump administration’s child separation policy “makes worse the trauma that immigrant children have already experienced on their journey to this country.”
Jackson replied, “Chicago is a welcoming city, a sanctuary city. So we have a lot of students who immigrate to the United States and end up setting up a home in Chicago.
“We do our best to support those students when they disclose their status, and with that comes additional resources and support,” including “making sure they don’t have any barriers to enrollment” as the schools work “with our students to make sure there is stability in their home life and that they have access to resources or know how to access those resources should they need them.
“I would count this as an area where we can definitely be doing more” Jackson said adding, “Our immigrant families, our undocumented families do not trust the government agencies enough to disclose their status.”
Grothman, the next questioner, told Jackson he was not aware there were so many immigrants in the Chicago public schools.
“For the immigrants you invite into your sanctuary city, how many come with immigrant children, how many come with both parents, how many one parent, how many no parents?”
Jackson told Grothman the Chicago schools do not collect that information.
Grothman’s follow-up question twisted Jackson’s reply.
“So you don’t know, if, say, Johnny breaks his arm or something, you don’t know whether (there are) no parents are at home, one parent is at home or two parents are at home? You don’t even keep track?”
Of course that’s not the case. Jackson calmly said, “We know for every student who is the parent or guardian of record.
“What I am saying is we don’t know initially a student’s status. We don’t ask them for that information when they enroll in school in Chicago. It doesn’t matter. Our doors are open to all students.”
Jackson got to the bottom line when we talked after the hearing about Grothman’s push for parental data — and tying it to immigrants. “I think if we were collecting that kind of data we would see undocumented students and families not showing up to our schools, which would of course not be a good outcome.”
Added Jackson, “We will not be doing that in Chicago.”
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