Administrators on the hot seat for canceling a trip to Arizona because of its new immigration law received backing from their school board Monday night.
The decision by administrators in District 113 in northeastern Illinois brought on a wave a criticism around the country last week after former GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin lambasted it while speaking near Chicago and accused administrators of foisting a liberal political agenda on students at Highland Park High School and members of its girls basketball team.
The decision was not intended as a political statement, said Board President Bonnie Shlensky, but was simply taken to assure the safety of students. She made no comment on the Arizona law, other than to say that the uncertainty about how the law will be enforced was enough to concern the administrators, who have the responsibility to provide education to residents regardless of their immigration status.
It is too early to tell whether SB 1070 will result in racial profiling, or whether it will subject students to unwarranted scrutiny, she said. Superintendent George Fornero said the trip was planned only recently and without final approval from the district. He added the administration would see to it that parents have input to decisions before they are made regarding future trips.
The board opened the floor to public comment on the decision for 30 minutes, limiting comments to two minutes each. About 15 people spoke.
A slight majority of those speaking were opposed to the decision, 8-6 by my count, and those opposed seemed to have slightly louder support among the crowd of about 180.
The most noteworthy statement may have been delivered by a member of the girls basketball team, who said the team has "accepted" the decision, and looks forward to competing in a similar tournament in Orlando, Florida. She said the team had hoped to participate in the most competitive tourney possible and wished to voice no opinion about the debate over immigration laws.
Some of the most strident commentary came from students at HPHS. One junior identified himelf as a "Republican who hates Fox News," and supported the decision to "boycott intolerance." A girl said she "has never been so proud to be a student at this school. Thank you for taking a stand."
On the other side, a student whose sister plays on the team declared "Shame on every one of you sitting up there." He said that by focusing media attention on the presence of people here without legal citizenship, the board has put the very people it claims to protect under greater threat of deportation.
Another said the Arizona law "strictly prohibits racial profiling."
Several opponents of the decision said team members and their parents should have been able to make the decision themselves, whether they decided to make the trip or not.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I spoke in support of the decision, expressing my opinion that administrators were not making a statement to folks in Arizona regarding the immigration issue there, but simply looking out for the interests of students here. I am an HPHS grad, as are both of my daughters.
PILE-ON CONTINUES: Media criticism of the decision continued Monday, with Sun Times columnist Richard Roeper playing it for yucks by noting some absurd laws on the books in Florida, such as the prohibition against women falling asleep under hair dryers. HP officials must be okay with that, he mused, because "you're supposed to inject your personal political views into the equation, right?"
I've always been of the opinion that Roeper is a bit too cool for school.
EDITORIAL JUJITSU: More interesting was the Chicago-Sun Times editorial that ran Monday in which it managed to take both sides of the issue and still miss the point. First off, they declare, the district is right.
"The law is outrageous. Principled Americans are right to penalize the state by shunning it."
But wait! The district was wrong, because it made the decision behind closed doors. Hold on, now, they have a solution, but not before reciting Palin's talking points, only not the way she meant them.
"It was a deeply political statement. It was a way to protest the Arizona law."
And they know this because?
"Assistant Supt. Susan Hebson conceded as much...when, shortly after the trip was canceled, ostensibly for safety reasons, she admitted it 'would not align with our beliefs and values.'"
Conceded? Ostensibly? Admitted?
The "beliefs and values" quote has been the sharp edge of the sword for those criticizing the decision. They translate it without question as meaning Hebson is telling folks in Arizona to go jump in the Grand Canyon. (Which the Sun-Times is happy to do.)
Might there be another explaination? Did Hebson think Arizona's action would force her to ask Hispanic students making the trip to make sure they had documentation with them? And if a student didn't posess such documentation, might Hebson have felt obliged to advise the student not to make the trip? And might she have believed such an action would violate the "beliefs and values"of the district because it drags educators into immigration enforcement duty?
That's how I saw it from the giddyap. She was watching out for students here in District 113, not telling people in Arizona what to do. Then again, I have not mastered the art of substituting loaded words like "conceded" and "admitted," for the more objective "said." Nor do I often find use for the term "ostensibly," which I believe should be written with one eyebrow arched high, or at the very least ought be accompanied by a disbelieving roll of the eyes.
No matter. They see this injection of personal opinion into board policy as a good thing. Guess they and Roeper don't talk much. So, how to fix this mess? Easy. First, the decision gets tossed out. Then the Board, "after listening to all views expressed at an exhaustive public hearing" goes ahead and tells off Arizona "with a bold public statement that carries real weight."
I'm running out of adjectives here. "Astonishingly" comes to mind. Astonishingly, the editorial about wraps it up there. They restate their opposition to the law, then weep that folks in the community didn't get to be part of this grand gesture, because "nobody ever asked." (Sniff.)
Did it occur to anyone over there that an exhaustive public hearing might have produced an 8 to 6 vote, as it did tonight? Or an 80 to 60 vote? That the community might not reach consensus?
Astonishingly, remarkably, amazingly, unbelieveably--oh, hell you pick one--it did, but stated its sincere hope that the Board would then vote to cancel the trip because "Declaring the trip back on just might divide the school further...."
THE REAL BEAUTY OF THIS: Monday was the last day of school for seniors at HPHS. Prom beckons. The graduation ceremony is just around the corner. (Maybe we should hold our exhaustive public hearing there, since everyone is already in one place, right? How long could it take?)
Many students will start summer jobs as they prepare for college. Others might just chill and take in the summer after graduation before beginning the rest of their lives. If the Sun-Times and others have their way, we can twist our tits into knots for another month or two without being any closer to solving this thing.
By taking the action they did Monday night, endorsing the decision with one voice, the board has mercifully spared us all of that. This case is closed. Those angry enough to "vote 'em all out" in the next election are free to do so.
The way I see it, administrators saw where this all might go and how long it might take to get there--or not get there--and said, "Fuck it! Let's earn our money."