What is most important is the decision by the school board at OPRF that it must create and then fill a new post for a “motivational mentor” to work directly with students, mostly minorities, who are on the verge of trouble.
The frustration, of course, is that OPRF had long benefitted from having Stephen Jackson in that exact position, working all hours of the day with dozens of youngsters who could relate to the man specifically because he had been in legal trouble, been to prison, and had found the strength to turn his life back.
Because state law prohibits a school district from hiring a convicted felon, Jackson was actually on the payroll of Oak Park Township and simply was assigned to OPRF. A falling out between good people at the township and Jackson led to his termination late last year. We don’t seek to relitigate that dispute here.
We support the school’s recognition that there is a real need for this position. We support the efforts of a sitting and a past OPRF school board member to push hard for the governor’s clemency for Jackson. Clemency from an armed robbery conviction and 12 years of prison time by the young Jackson would make him employable in a public school.
In a moment when both Democrats and Republicans have joined in the conviction that our mass incarceration of young African American men is a fetid sore on our society, when actual reform of our criminal justice system seems likely for reasons both fair and fiscal, we’d urge OPRF officials to consider the legal risk of actually hiring Jackson back into his old job.
If school officials are unwilling to take that chance, we’d suggest that, in a time when collaboration is on the lips of all local leaders, other options — money funneled through the Community Foundation, a hire made through the police department — be actively considered.
The best outcome for our children would be for Stephen Jackson to be returned to the post he created. If, after diligent effort, that is not possible, if our posturing governor cannot be persuaded to take quick action on a clemency application, then a thoughtfully made new hire will be welcomed.