LAKEVIEW — Parents at a Lakeview school are pushing Chicago Public Schools to take action against the principal and investigate alleged mismanagement after a Black mom was reported for child neglect for being a few minutes late picking up her son.
Mother and Hyde Park Academy teacher JaNay Dodson was reported to the Department of Children and Family Services earlier this month after her brother arrived seven minutes late to Inter-American Magnet School to pick up Dodson’s son.
District policy when children are stranded at school requires administrators to eventually contact police or DCFS. But Dodson said the situation only occurred because her son’s busing schedule still was in flux, she had classes to teach, and school staff never contacted her or returned her messages to say someone was en route to pick up 10-year-old Braylin.
Dodson received a stern message from Principal Daniela Bylaitis, urging her to be on time to pick up her son. The following day, Braylin was pulled out of class to speak to a DCFS investigator, Dodson said.
On Wednesday, Dodson appealed to the district’s Board of Education to remove Principal Daniela Bylaitis from the school and investigate her use of the district’s DCFS reporting policy. Dodson said she felt she was unfairly targeted because she is Black. Other parents she spoke to said they never were confronted by authorities for being late.
“I have proudly served this district and my students ever since I joined Teach for America 19 years ago. However, the pride I once felt has turned into shame, anxiety and distrust,” Dodson told board members. “It is my contention that Dr. Bylaitis’ actions were racially motivated as I am one of the few Black parents at IAMS and the only parent we have found that’s experienced this response.
“During a time where our nation is trying to recover from the first pandemic in 100 years, this principal showed apathy rather than empathy, and chose to assume neglect instead of consideration for what may have caused the late pickup,” Dodson said.
Bylaitis did not return requests for comment. Chicago Public School representatives previously have said district leaders are “in the process of reviewing” what happened, but they have not responded to additional questions about where that inquiry stands.
The incident with Dodson outraged parents and members of IAMS local school council, but ultimately the group could not agree on how to respond.
Carolina Barrera Tobón, another IAMS parent and member of the local school council, wrote a letter to CPS CEO Janice Jackson urging the district to revise the stranded child policy, and called for an investigation into what she said is a series of bad judgment calls by the principal.
“What is common across all of these scenarios is our principal’s poor judgment and lack of uniform application of policy,” Barrera Tobón said. “We call on the district to intervene and respond to the dire calls to ensure students’ safety. How can you look at these parents after what’s happened to them and say their children are safe?”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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