CHICAGO — After a summer of hurried school police votes that raised questions about engagement and transparency in local school councils, interested Chicagoans will get a second chance to run for a council seat.
Chicago has reopened its candidate nominations for council spots until Oct. 2, part of a series of changes to address council elections delayed in April due to the coronavirus crisis.
Now rescheduled for November, the new nomination dates will give parents and community members another chance to run for a seat. It also will test the district’s ability to run a mostly virtual candidate process.
Local school councils — made up of parents, students, and community members that can make school budget and principal hiring decisions — were once seen as a bastion of school-level democracy.
But in recent years, they’ve struggled to retain members or wield their considerable power, which could include not only hiring and firing principals or approving budgets but overseeing school discipline. WBEZ found this summer that only a third of elementary and high schools with councils had a full roster of members.
This summer, councils got a fresh wave of attention when individual schools were asked to vote on whether to retain their police officers, amidst the background of a nationwide protest movement against police violence. Those votes showed the power and engagement of councils with robust community connections, but also raised questions about whether the groups had enough support, were fully connected to their communities, or followed basic transparency rules around posting meeting dates and times.
Now, long-time community advocates hope the summer attention means they’ll get a fresh wave of candidates.
Natasha Erskine, parent organizer at community group Raise Your Hand, said she’s already seen an unprecedented surge of interest in the elections. “There is some momentum around the last two months,” said Erskine, whose group is planning several virtual information sessions about local school councils.
Candidates interested in running can fill out a form online or in person at a local school. Candidate forums will be held virtually between Oct. 19 and Oct. 30. Elections will be held on Nov. 18 for elementary schools and Nov. 19 for high schools. The district did not specify whether elections will be held virtually or in person.
Local school councils have seats for 13 members, including parents, community members, teacher representatives, the school principal and, in high schools, a student. They must have seven members to make a quorum.
New members will be inaugurated on Jan. 10 and begin their roles the next day.