Something's Rotten at Oscar Mayar | Letters | Chicago Reader

Something's Rotten at Oscar Mayar 

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To the editors:

The Neighborhood News story running in the recent Reader [March 15] about Oscar Mayer School reflects a public relations campaign waged to attract more "upscale" kids. Unfortunately, this PR effort is so important to a small group of parents and to the new principal (Bob Blitstein) that they are willing to sacrifice children, education and their own integrity to a wide-ranging cover-up of real problems, pain and downright nastiness.

At the outset, I want to make clear that I do respect the sincere efforts of some teachers and parents at Mayer to make a success out of a school with an extensive history of troubles. They are alarmed and concerned by rapidly dropping test scores and by the lack of money to fund programs neglected by the central bureaucracy. Many are justifiably worried about their own kids' needs. Still, this doesn't justify the anguish and damage this school inflicts on children.

In just three months of having my foster daughter at this school, I learned of the following: (1) violation of a Federal Desegregation Order, (2) a cover-up of reports of an abusive teacher, and (3) extensive discouragement and "tracking" of underachieving students that goes so far as telling concerned parents--including myself--to go to another school.

The segregation of first-graders by race and background was so obvious in the fall of this year that many parents were up in arms. However, when I and other individual parents went to Mr. Blitstein to express concern, we were told that he would deal with it later and we were told not to make waves.

One of the first grade classes had no teacher assigned to it for the first week of school. This class had the most Black children (including my foster daughter) of any of the first grade classes and had a large group of kids who had transferred in from the Saint Vincent de Paul kindergarten, a program catering to needy and abused kids. This class was 88 percent minority children, with only 4 of the about 30 White first-graders.

Despite complaints on this to the principal and to LSC Chair Mark Massery, no action was taken. Frustrated by their stonewalling, and convinced that Mayer had set up a "dumping ground" for undesirable students in the first grade, I called the Board of Education Equal Education Opportunity Program to find out my recourse as a parent. An investigation of the school the next day confirmed the racial imbalance and forced a shifting of first-grade classroom enrollment--including my foster child.

After the classroom change, my foster child and other children were told by their new teacher that they were already two months behind her class. My foster daughter and I were told by the new teacher that she was so far behind she would likely have to repeat first grade. The teacher said her class was overcrowded and, therefore, there was no way she could give needed attention to many of the kids.

When word got out that I had initiated the call that led to the classroom changes, I was told by parent "leaders" and by Mr. Blitstein that I had no "right" to have gone to the Board of Education. Mr. Blitstein also told me to get my child out of the school. Others at the school told me that my child would suffer for my activism.

In another instance, I saw a Mayer teacher spank a student in public on a school field trip. I learned that she regularly screamed at, threatened, and spanked children in her classroom. She even followed a bus load of Saint Vincent children to their after-school program one night, stormed in, and verbally assaulted the children until the director of the center forced her to leave.

Again, I reported these stories immediately to the principal, but, again, he shrugged and threw up his arms. He said there wasn't much he could do--blaming union rules and the Board of Education--and he explained to me that her behavior, as a Black teacher, was part of her cultural style! He suggested I not talk to other parents about this and let him handle it "his way." (Although many at the school know of this problem, this teacher is still teaching at Mayer.)

My foster child is now in another school. As I emphasized with the principal before she had started at Mayer, this little girl had been through a lot in her first five years. My task as foster parent is to help her to heal, and, as any natural parent would do, to advocate for her needs. From concerned professionals who have worked with her, I've learned about abused children's needs. I shared these concerns with Mr. Blitstein last summer. These needs include: (1) to have stable adults in her life, (2) to learn the inappropriateness of physical violence and to feel safe, and (3) to nurture her self-esteem.

At Mayer in just three months, she had been taught by three different homeroom teachers; she had repeatedly been hurt physically in her classroom and during the school day--including a bloody lip and having her hair cut by a boy with a scissors; and she had been emotionally traumatized by two teachers who told her she is a failure and a bad girl. She is still working through the problems created at Mayer and resurfaced from her past.

For the sake of all of the children still at Mayer, I hope the real story of one child will encourage action to stop the focus on self-promotion and publicity. They need to turn their considerable energy toward an honest look at the serious problems in the school and at long-term solutions that serve all of the kids, regardless of race or social and economic background.

I request that my name be withheld out of concern and respect for my foster daughter's confidentiality. Thank you.

Name withheld

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