Special from the West Suburban Journal
Fueled by an article in La Raza newspaper, which alleges Proviso High School officials discriminate against Latino students, parents vented their frustrations at a meeting organized by Latino Unidos con Voz (LUV) in Melrose Park, November 2.

“This is not acceptable to our community…Latinos are here and we’re here to stay,” said Maria Tapia Reyes, president of LUV, a nonprofit organization promoting Hispanic rights and education. “Rosa Parks sat down so that we could all stand up…We pay taxes just like everyone else.”

District 209 Chief Education Officer Robert Libka attended the gathering, but was asked by LUV not to respond to the parents that night. The purpose of the meeting was to hear the parents’ concerns so that they could be addressed the next day in a private meeting between LUV and District 209.

“I want to encourage you to be very candid because we are here to listen tonight,” Libka told the audience of about 50.

One major concern is that parents are being asked to provide five proofs of residency if they do not own a home in order for their kids to attend D209. This would sometimes delay a student 90 days before being able to attend school, according to some teachers and parents, who wished to remain anonymous. Students especially at risk are those living in multi-family households.

A Proviso West secretary, Lorena Jacobo, did confirm new students are asked to provide five proofs of residency if the family does not own their own home and only one proof of residency if they do own a home. Registrar Phyllis Washington immediately responded to Jacobo’s comments saying her statements should not be documented and all inquiries into the matter should be directed toward Libka. However, several administration officials, including Libka, did not return repeated requests for comment on the registration process.

The Illinois State of Education (ISBE) states that residency is a local determination for a local school district; however, the board recommends fewer proofs of residency.

“We encourage a lower threshold of proof of residency,” said Meta Minton, spokeswoman for ISBE. “The philosophy is just get the kids in school.”

Meta said several factors might make it difficult for a student’s family to immediately provide proofs of residency, including the time it takes to receive bills for a new property, or rental, or parental custody issues.

Angela McGee, spokeswoman for District 209, said a new student’s registration requires a lot of paperwork, but there is no bias during the process because every student has to provide the same information.

Other concerns brought by parents included school safety, attendance and lack of bilingual communication. Reyes said Spanish-speaking parents are often treated rudely.

Libka said the district does offer several services to Spanish-speaking parents, but admits they can do much better in linking those parents with those services.

“We need to work better on our customer service mentality and the way in which we link the non-English speaking customers with the necessary services,” Libka said.

One Latino teacher, Ignacio Ponce, defended the district against the criticisms that night. He said, in Spanish, that parents should be held more accountable and come to the parent-teacher meeting events. One parent said the invitation letters to the events are not bilingual and they sometimes receive them late. This is Ponce’s first year with the district.

“[Ponce] does not know this community, as much as I respect him,” Reyes said.

A flyer announcing a child support workshop sponsored by State Rep. Karen Yarbrough was distributed at the event. Yarbrough’s potential opponent in next year’s election is District 209 School Board President Chris Welch. Reyes said there is no political motive behind the issues presented that night. She said it was about the parents and the students, but did not rule out enlisting the help of politician if needed.

“I’m trying really hard to not turn this into a political thing, but if I have to talk to a politician to fix it, I’ll talk to a politician,” Reyes said.

Neither Yarbrough nor Welch attended the meeting. Welch said he was aware of the meeting, but was not invited and does not know exactly what issues were presented.

Reyes said the private meeting with District 209 the next day was productive. She said administration officials are open to the idea of LUV serving as a medium between Spanish-speaking parents and the district. One idea was allowing LUV members to attend the parent-teacher meeting events to assist Latino parents.

“If the parents feel comfortable knowing that someone is going to speak their language, knowing that they’re going to feel welcome, they will come,” Reyes said.

She also said the district promised to have a bilingual person behind the counter at all times from now on, but they admitted it was hard to find qualified bilingual faculty. Libka said dozens of faculty and teachers who currently work in the district are bilingual.

The Hispanic population ratio at Proviso East High School has risen seven percentage points to 35 percent in the last three years, according to the ISBE. In contrast, the African-American population ratio at Proviso East has dropped seven percentage points, but is still the majority at almost 73 percent. The percentage of Hispanics at Proviso West has hovered at around 30 percent in the last few years. Only Proviso West offers an ESL course.

Reyes said the growing Latino population is making an impact in the community and it is the responsibility of government entities to provide information in multiple languages, not just Spanish. She also said there is a natural tension when an ethnic group moves into a community.

“It’s just the nature of bringing two groups that are so different together,” Reyes said. “I think it would be wonderful if African-Americans and Latinos could work together.”