Dec 12, 2008
A newly-launched Chicago Parents Union is recruiting members, with plans to have a parents union steward in each of the city’s public schools.
A parents union is needed because parent empowerment is under attack in Chicago, said Steve Ross, founding president of CPU. Elected, parent-majority local school councils are being eliminated as traditional schools are replaced by charter and other alternative schools without LSCs, he said.
“Parents need a power base that can’t be stripped away by CPS or City Hall.”
Ross is the board president of Parents United for Responsible Education, and PURE helped develop plans for CPU and will be an organizational member along with a number of other groups, he said.
The role of union steward as a first line of support for parents builds on PURE’s work over many years advising and advocating for individual parents. “When parents have a problem, they don’t know where to go or who to contact,” said Ross. “PURE knows what to do, who to call downtown.”
He first contacted PURE a few years ago when his son was having trouble in school. “I went to the dean of students, but the dean of students couldn’t help me.” PURE connected him with pro-bono legal resources, and “I was able to keep my kid in school.”
“Parents call about all kinds of things, a million and one things,” said Julie Woestehoff of PURE. “Every day it’s something different.” PURE often helps parents of special education students or students with disciplinary issues. This week they helped the mother of a special education child get the transportation for which she was legally entitled, she said.
Union stewards will be trained to help parents navigate a variety of challenges and connect them with resources they need.
CPU will also provide parent workshops and advocate for quality education policies and practices. It hopes to offer special products, such as group insurance, as well — like labor unions and membership groups like AARP do, Woestehoff said.
“It’s a network,” said Ross. “It’s parents helping parents. It’s like a potluck dinner — everybody brings a little something to the table.”