Editorial Roundup: Illinois

 
 
Updated 12/21/2021 3:35 PM

Chicago Tribune. December 21, 2021.

Editorial: Editorial: CPS worst-case scenario? A return to remote learning. Parents, don't let it happen.

 

Parents in Illinois recently got a glimpse of the havoc the pandemic wreaked on student performance during 2021. Academic proficiency lagged badly, across the board. Income status didn't matter, neither did demographics. At some Chicago high schools, no student met expectations in reading or math.

Imagine how much more damage would be done to students' educational trajectories if school districts were forced to return to remote learning.

That's exactly what Chicago Public Schools parents should have in mind, with their children now in the midst of winter break. During the Dec. 6-10 school week, CPS reported a COVID-19 case count of 764 students and 246 adults - a big leap from the 300 to 400 total cases weekly that the district was seeing in November.

Citywide, a post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge has sent the case count soaring, to an average of 929 a day. Dr. Kenneth Fox, CPS' chief health officer, told CPS board members last week that 'as the city goes, so goes CPS.'

The looming threat of the omicron variant is bound to make case counts even worse. And with CPS students on winter break until Jan. 3, the district is bracing for a COVID-19 surge courtesy of children spending the holidays at gatherings teeming with relatives.

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That sets up a doomsday scenario for CPS - a return to remote learning that further worsens the derailment of students' education, further isolates kids socially and emotionally, and unnecessarily imperils their futures. Struggles in school have a cumulative effect. What isn't learned now will make what needs to be learned tomorrow that much more difficult.

But remote learning redux is avoidable. CPS is providing 150,000 COVID-19 test kits to families who live in neighborhoods designated as being at high risk for COVID-19, and elementary schools in communities designated as medium risk. For parents, the mission is straightforward and urgent. Test your children.

Families have been urged to test their children Dec. 28 and FedEx the kits back to CPS that same day. Students who test positive will be quarantined for 10 days from the test date. 'I ask parents, I plead with parents. Please take advantage of this if your school is in one of these communities,' CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said at the district's Dec. 15 board meeting. For the sake of students, for the sake of the city, we echo that plea.

The other way parents can pitch in is to get their children vaccinated, if they haven't already done so. CPS' vaccination rates among students remain abysmal. As of last week, only 13.3% of students 5 to 11 had received at least one vaccine dose. Among students between 12 and 17, a little more than half had received one vaccine shot. Those statistics are hardly good news for a district straining to stave off a return to remote learning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The pandemic has upended virtually every facet of our lives. Work from home is still the norm for many. The diversions we need to augment our days - dining out, heading out to a performance, seeing a favorite team in person - continue to require an assessment of how much risk is involved in doing something we once took for granted.

For children, however, the pandemic has had a disturbingly far-reaching effect. Remote learning veered the educational experience off track for many students. CPS, and its parents, cannot afford to let the damage build up. The prescription for avoiding a return to remote learning is simple. Mask up, test, and vaccinate.

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Chicago Sun-Times. December 16, 2021.

Editorial: Don't stop the work of uncovering police torture

We need to know if innocent men remain in prison. The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission has hundreds more cases to investigate. Its work is under threat from a lawsuit.

Since it was created in 2009, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission has uncovered examples of men who were sent to prison because of statements extracted by police torture.

Among men who have been freed from prison after the commission found credible evidence of police torture are James Gibson, freed in 2019 after 29 years behind bars; Shawn Whirl, freed in 2015 after nearly 25 years, and Arnold Day, freed in 2018 after 26 years.

In one case, that of Mark Maxson, DNA evidence obtained by the commission to establish whether Maxson was tortured not only proved his innocence but also identified the real killer, who was sent to prison for 50 years. Maxson had served nearly two decades in prison.

The commission, which has more than 480 cases still to examine, must be allowed to finish its work. But as part of a lawsuit in federal court, a judge is being asked to rule the commission is unconstitutional.

That would be an unconscionable blow to justice. Illinois needs to do all it can to track down every case of an innocent man languishing in prison because of police torture. Now is no time to put a stop to the commission's work.

Beyond Jon Burge

The claim that the commission is unconstitutional comes in a response to a civil lawsuit filed by Jackie Wilson, who was freed in 2018 after 36 years in prison after being convicted of taking part in the slaying of two police officers. In 2015, TIRC found credible evidence that Wilson was tortured by police.

The claim of unconstitutionality is argued by Lawrence Hyman, an original prosecutor in the Jackie Wilson case and now a defendant in the lawsuit.

In part, Hyman argues the legislation creating the commission 'is unconstitutional on its face' because it could be enforced only for victims of one person, former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. In the 1970s and 1980s, Burge and his so-called Area 2 Midnight Crew tortured African American men into confessing to crimes. Hyman also argues the commission is unconstitutional because it lets the executive branch of government infringe on final judicial judgments. That view of TIRC's constitutionality does not appear to be widely shared in the legal community.

The issue about Burge would appear to be moot because about five years ago, the Legislature expanded TIRC's jurisdiction to cover all cases of police torture, not just those connected to Burge. That brought many more cases under TIRC's purview. Those cases needs to be investigated.

But besides Hyman's court filing, the commission faces another new challenge. The Cook County public defender's office said it will no longer represent the commission claimants because the cases are outside its statutory authority. That means even if the commission establishes credible evidence of police torture, some indigent prisoners won't have anyone to represent them when their cases are handed over for a judge to review. No one will be looking out for them.

This can't be the last word. Funding must be found somewhere to help potentially innocent men with credible claims of torture make their case. The commission's job never was to determine guilt or innocence. It just flags credible allegations of police torture. After that, cases go to court and require the subpoenaing of documents and witnesses. It's not something claimants can do on their own without a lawyer.

'A dark chapter'

It hasn't been easy sailing for the commission. After it was created, commissioners weren't appointed for nearly a year. In 2012, the Legislature stripped its funding. After funding was restored, then-Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez tied things up with an unnecessary fight over who would represent the state's side during evidentiary hearings. Then TIRC's executive director was forced out, and all work stopped for months until a new one was appointed. With all the red tape and underfunding, not a single case made it to an evidentiary hearing in the commission's first four years.

Now that TIRC is making progress, it's no time to put the brakes on.

In 2013, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the Burge atrocities, calling it 'a dark chapter on the history of the city of Chicago.'

Yet here we are, eight years later, on the verge of opening another dark chapter by shoving into the slow lane the efforts to find out if innocent men remain in prison - or maybe stopping those efforts altogether. It's time to speed things up and ensure justice is finally served.

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Decatur Herald & Review. December 17, 2021.

Editorial: Millikin dispute can spark conversation

Rev. Walter 'Wally' Carlson, pastor of Decatur's Sharon United Methodist Church, has found himself smack in the middle of a 21st century America culture battle.

You've probably noticed that's exactly the place you don't want to be.

Carlson gave the invocation at last weekend's Millikin University commencement. In it, he said that, on the controversial subject these days of gender, the preferred use in reference to God was male pronouns, and he would be using those.

Members of the college's LGBTQ community reacted angrily to the gender reference, and a video of it went a degree of viral. Carlson posted a Facebook video in which he said he meant no disrespect at all, but any misunderstanding was his fault for not making his meaning clear.

That Facebook video has since been removed. Official Millikin video of the winter commencement has edited out all of the pastor's remarks and prayer. And Millikin removed Carlson from membership of the school's Institutional Review Board.

Each reader and viewer chose to evaluate Carlson and his apology in their own way. Some didn't understand why he had to apologize to begin with '" he spoke the truth. Some took it at face value '" they wanted an apology, and he apologized. Some were skeptical, believing everything he said was more template than sincere. For some, the apology fell short. They demanded some kind of punishment. For some, the universe could never be made right after what was said.

And of course every exchange included the requisite name-calling.

The shame is our inability to consider an outlook besides our own. At a time where we've defined and grouped ourselves among the extremes of our beliefs, other thought processes and possibilities have become heresy instead of a possibility to exchange views.

At its heart, that's one of the things trans understanding is all about. As we learn about the things that psychically wound people, we're supposed to be kind enough to try to come to an agreement and language we can use to avoid anguish. If we're being civil. Of course, those attempts are immediately harpooned when mocked as catering to 'snowflakes.'

At the same time, those who have trouble grasping non-binary sexuality aren't going to find their way to understanding when they're being called bigots and worse. Especially if being civil is any part of the equation.

Carlson stumbled into a briar pact he could have seen coming. He should have seen it as a religious leader and as a member of a board at the school that reviews research projects involving human participants to ensure their 'rights and welfare.' When working closely with people, it's important to understand what their language is. If Carlson didn't realize his language would be viewed as contentious, he should have.

One thing that happens when we listen to or view communication patterns is not hearing the intention or context. Changing language has been the bane of generations for in excess of a century. Once media '" print, broadcast or social -- reaches a saturation point, it has a tremendous influence on the language, for better or worse. In some cases, a person needs context and explanation if they don't understand what's being communicated. But there has to be an effort and desire to understand on both ends of the exchange.

No one is to blame for language changing. But we're all responsible for understanding those changes, or looking for explanations if we cannot.

Our editorial board discussed this event and our reaction to it at length. Maybe the takeaway from Carlson's remark is we've all gained a deeper understanding that words matter, particularly the way they're shoes.

We're a divided society. We have to learn to embrace our similarities and understand our differences. We don't have to agree, but the vitriol-filled arguments solve nothing. We need to listen, then speak.

END

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