Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s re-election campaign’s move to send an email to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers asking them to urge their students to volunteer for the mayor’s campaign – in exchange for class credit – is drawing fire.
The report of the email letters sent to teachers has evoked strong reactions from various corners, including Parents Defending Education (PDE), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), and CPS.
WTTW News first reported Wednesday the email reportedly sent to CPS teachers from Megan Crane, named in the report as deputy campaign manager for Lightfoot’s campaign.
According to WTTW:
It was unclear how many Chicago teachers received the email from Megan Crane, whose LinkedIn page identifies her as the deputy campaign manager for Lightfoot. The message was sent to teachers’ official work email accounts, which end in cps.edu.
The email asked the teachers to urge their students to volunteer to help Lightfoot win her re-election bid and earn class credit simultaneously.
“Hello! My name is Megan Crane, and I work on Mayor Lightfoot’s re-election campaign,” begins the partially reported email featured in the WTTW News story.
“As the race heats up, we’re looking to enrich our office through what we call our externship program,” the reported email continues. “Could you please share this opportunity with your students? … Externs are expected to devote 12 hrs/wk to the … campaign. Students are eligible to earn class cre … through our volunteer program.”
On Thursday, WTTW News reported the Lightfoot Campaign also sent “identical emails” to City Colleges of Chicago instructors, urging them to encourage their students to help the mayor win re-election in exchange for class credit.
In remarks about the incident, Lightfoot said the emails should not have been sent and blamed a “young staffer,” who is “20-something,” for making a “mistake” that was “well intentioned.” She added the staffer would not be fired.
Lightfoot also denied knowing why her campaign offered class credit to those students who volunteered to help her re-election bid.
“It never should have happened,” the mayor said. “It is not going to happen again,” she continued, adding she apologized to Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez and Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle for creating an “unnecessary distraction.”
According to the news report, Lightfoot said she stopped the email letters, but a campaign spokesperson “initially defended the outreach ‘to provide young people with the opportunity to engage with our campaign, learn more about the importance of civic engagement and participate in the most American of processes.’”
On Thursday, PDE, a grassroots organization focused on parental rights, filed an ethics complaint against Lightfoot and Crane with the City of Chicago Board of Ethics, formally requesting an investigation into Lightfoot’s campaign activities.
“Tragically, far too many students in Chicago Public Schools are unable to read or write at grade level – even prior to the CTU-led school closures, which disproportionately impacted the city’s disadvantaged children,” said Nicki Neily, PDE president. “Chicago students should be sitting in classrooms and focused on making up this learning loss so that they have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves – not being conscripted as foot soldiers in Mayor Lightfoot’s re-election campaign.”
Chicago students should be sitting in classrooms and focused on making up this learning loss so that they have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves – not being conscripted as foot soldiers in Mayor Lightfoot’s re-election campaign.https://t.co/AQKjctiNhs
— Nicki Neily (@nickineily) January 13, 2023
Neily’s comment recalls the warning against education legislation, such as the Civics Secures Democracy (CSD) Act – sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and endorsed by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten – which, if enacted, could federalize Critical Race Theory and allow “action civics” to become the norm in K-12 classrooms.
With such education measures, students could be permitted, in the name of civics literacy, to earn class credit for “field trips” such as protesting with Black Lives Matter, working as a volunteer at Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, organizing gun control rallies, and working on political campaigns.
Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has already sounded the warning about such legislation at National Review.
In comments to The Star News Network, Kurtz said regarding the reported Lightfoot campaign issue:
Chicago is home to the pernicious practice of “action civics.” Illinois was the first state to mandate extracurricular political protests and political internships for civics course credit. This abuse of the public education system allows teachers, peer pressure, and outside advocacy groups to politicize and indoctrinate students on the taxpayer’s dime. Now (if this story is confirmed by release of the full letter) action civics has been pushed to its logical—and most corrupt—conclusion. Students are being recruited into a partisan political campaign by the abuse of a mayor’s power over teachers. Lightfoot’s shameful attempt to pressure students into her political campaign must be repudiated, and the practice of action civics must end.
ACLU of Illinois also reacted to the reported emails sent out by Lightfoot’s campaign.
“This was inappropriately coercive and raises First Amendment concerns,” the organization asserted.
Mayor Lightfoot campaign emailed CPS teachers to urge them to offer extra credit to students as an incentive to volunteer on the Mayor’s re-election campaign. This was inappropriately coercive and raises First Amendment concerns.
— ACLU of Illinois (@ACLUofIL) January 12, 2023
Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and a candidate for mayor of Chicago, said in a statement reported at The Center Square that the people of Chicago should “demand accountability” from Lightfoot.
“While I believe that an independent joint investigation by the city and CPS Inspectors General is the best way to get to the bottom of this scandal, Chicago voters deserve to hear answers to these questions and more directly from Mayor Lightfoot herself right now,” Vallas said. “Public service is a public trust, and we need to demand accountability and transparency from Mayor Lightfoot now to ensure that the integrity of our city government is not further compromised.”
Brandon Johnson, who is running in the mayoral primary against Lightfoot, observed an apparent inconsistency in Lightfoot’s operating policies:
Last summer, Mayor Lightfoot tried to fire two George Washington HS teachers for engaging students around the fight for environmental justice in their own SE Side community, yet here she is using CPS channels to solicit volunteers for her re-election campaign.
— Brandon Johnson (@Brandon4Chicago) January 12, 2023
The Chicago mayoral primary election will be held on Feb. 28.
“This is unethical and wrong on so many levels — not least of which is our concern that CTU members who decline to volunteer for the mayor’s campaign or encourage their students to do so could face retaliation,” said CTU in a statement.
Our statement to CTU members re the incumbent mayor's (latest) ethical failure: https://t.co/cFXTX6mwqp
— Chicago Teachers Union (@CTULocal1) January 12, 2023
“This is the same Mayor who promised to clean up corruption and make good ethics an anchor in her administration,” the teachers’ union continued. “This latest scheme shows she’s a rank hypocrite on ethics issues — including her attempt to use our schools and students as her campaign tools.”
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Lori Lightfoot” by Lori Lightfoot. Background Photo “Illinois State Capitol” by Daniel Schwen. CC BY-SA 4.0.