It was a small group in a cramped setting last Thursday at village hall. The topic put forward by APPLE, the African-American parent group, was the unraveling federal education initiative known as No Child Left Behind. But the people in the room wanted to talk more broadly about challenges at Oak Park and River Forest High School as they relate to expectations and academic performance, racial equity and the sense of these parents that there are still two OPRFs — one where the brightest are rising high while more middling and failing students are at loose ends.

These are the voices that OPRF says it seldom hears — the under-involved parents of underperforming children. Supt. Steven Isoye was there and he heard the pain. Two OPRF board members were there and Ralph Lee and Sharon Patchak-Layman listened well.

This meeting was awkward and intense, though not angry or confrontational. Talking about race and class, about a parent’s fears for a failing teen, is going to be awkward and intense. But essential. We need to know the hurt and the worry. We need to respond and engage. But first the words must be spoken out loud. And they must be heard.

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