Wyanetta Johnson, long an active Oak Park and River Forest High School supporter and co-president of the school's APPLE (African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) chapter, said Monday that she'd "had her stomach filled" with the high school's board of education.
She pledged that beginning two years from now, a fledgling group of upset Oak Park and River Forest High School parents will regularly mount an alternative school board slate. Meanwhile, she said, that a single candidate had accepted her informal group's backing in the April election.
Ron Lawless, an Oak Parker who has previously run unsuccessfully for state legislative posts, was expected to file candidacy petitions Tuesday, the final day of filing. He will run an independent campaign against a slate of four candidates backed by the OPRF Caucus organization.
"Two years from now we'll have a complete slate. And every time after that. We've sat back too many years. We've voted. We've worked endlessly for the sitting board. Now, many people have come to the point where we're tired. The board sits there like dunces on a log. We want to know what have you done for us lately?"
Johnson is among a group, which she says crosses all racial lines at the school, that is frustrated by the school's discipline policies, among other issues.
"No child who is fighting should see that go unaddressed," she said. "The school should deal with it. But there should be a way of stopping (the fighting) without going to extremes. The school is anxious to throw kids out of school," she said. "It's about knowing children and holding them accountable."
Carlotta Lucchesi, OPRF school board president, said she understands that Johnson is "frustrated with discipline issues that have come to the board. We've had a difficult year this year. We've had some difficult (discipline) issues. Unfortunately, I can't discuss any details.
"Some people in the community feel the board is overreacting. But I can't tell you the time the board spends on these issues. I can't explain the agony the board goes through in these cases," said Lucchesi.
But Lucchesi defended the Caucus candidate selection process "very inclusive."
Johnson said that "while it is true that more children who are in trouble (at OPRF) are African-American males, that this is not a black and white issue anymore. Some people want to make it black and white." Members of her group, she said, "are a rainbow. Every color, you know: White, Latinas, black. These are good and honest people who believe changes should be made. We want representation."
In the past, despite differences on some issues at the school, Johnson has been supportive of the administration and board. No longer.
"I've always respected and loved the board members. Now I go into the board room and they sit there arrogantly. They've already made up their minds. They don't hear. Their ears are closed."
How lottery works
On further review, Oak Park and River Forest High School now says that the lottery to determine candidate placement on the April ballot will treat each member of the OPRF Caucus slate as an individual rather than as a group. That means that the four Caucus candidates will each have their name entered into the lottery together with any independent candidates who file.
Lawless, best known locally for unsuccessful bids for state legislative offices, said he was asked to run by "a group of parents within the school district. I was asked and I think I can bring something to the board. There is a voice lacking."
Lawless said he would focus on property tax relief, academic achievement and greater parental involvement as the issues in his campaign. "We can do things at OPRF to slow the increase" in costs, he said. Among them is to study the possibility of a consolidation between OPRF's District 200 and the District 97 Oak Park elementary schools.
Lawless said that involvement among parents who "feel isolated" from the high school is an important way to boost support for stronger academics.
Lawless said he unsuccessfully sought the backing of the District 200 Caucus for slating this year.