WOODLAWN — A challenge against the election of Hyde Park Academy High School local school council candidate Maira Khwaja was dismissed at a “messy” hearing attended by 100 people Tuesday morning.
Khwaja received the most votes for the two open community representative positions in the Nov. 18 election with 47, while Sheila Scott and Lorenzo Sanchez tied for second place with 18 votes each.
A Nov. 19 petition filed by Scott requested Chicago Public Schools declare Khwaja ineligible to serve on the council, as “she is not in our district.”
The challenge against Khwaja was one of 23 challenges filed at 17 schools citywide, according to Chalkbeat.
But as officials called on Scott, Sanchez and the names of five other petitioners during the hearing, no one responded.
If no challengers appear at an election hearing, the independent hearing officer may dismiss the petition, according to CPS rules.
Though officials were unable to allow more attendees into the hearing after the virtual room reached capacity at 100, neither hearing officer Andrea Horton nor Board of Education attorney Kishasha Ford indicated the challengers had reached out to express difficulty in attending.
During the six-minute meeting, Horton recapped 59 minutes of technical difficulty and allowed documents to be introduced for the record before dismissing the challenge.
“Given that there are no representatives from the petitioning or challenging party present at this hearing, we cannot go forward,” Horton said. “The results of the election will stand at this point.”
Horton will issue her final recommendation in the next couple days, she said.
The “messy” hearing is indicative of the entire local school council election process, said Khwaja, the director of public impact strategy and outreach for the Invisible Institute and a weekly volunteer with Hyde Park Academy’s broadcast media program.
“No one’s totally sure of the rules, no one’s sure how to make things accessible,” Khwaja said. “It’s a lot of wasting people’s time and confusion.”
Scott’s challenge invoked a rule that community representative candidates must live within the school’s attendance area, or for “multi-area” schools, they must live within the school’s “voting district.”
State law defines multi-area schools as those which do not have a local attendance area established by the school board.
Khwaja doesn’t live within Hyde Park Academy’s attendance boundary, she said Monday. She assumed eligibility under the multi-area or voting district rules, with the understanding that students who live outside of the school’s attendance boundary are accepted to Hyde Park through a lottery process.
The newest CPS school locator map does not clearly distinguish between local and “multi-area” schools. It only shows attendance boundaries.
The local school council election map and last year’s school locator map — the latter of which is cited in the official election rules — also show different boundaries for Hyde Park Academy’s council than for the school’s attendance boundary. Portions of Englewood and Auburn Gresham fall within the council’s range.
The petition against Khwaja was based on “an ambiguous rule,” said Dixon Romeo, who serves on the Parkside Elementary council and is a member of the Local School Council Advisory Board. The board advises the city’s Board of Education on local school council elections, operations, powers and duties.
“I think it ended in the right way, but this [council] election process has to be fine-tuned and corrected,” said Romeo, who voted for Khwaja. “It’s really important that people … feel their votes matter and count, because our schools matter and count.”
Candidates and voters alike found the election process confusing, Chalkbeat reported Monday. More than 200 respondents to a survey cited a lack of training ahead of the election, difficult instructions on filling out mail-in ballots and a shortage of trained staff.
Now that the challenge has been dismissed, Khwaja looks forward to pushing the council to partner with community organizers “so they can be more impactful and effective within the school,” she said.
Khwaja cited Dyett High School‘s relationship with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization as “the model I want to emulate” at Hyde Park Academy.
Councils should link students with supports in career and college readiness, as well as legal, financial, housing and other supports for their families, she said.