Four local lawmakers talk shop at District 97 panel
Four local leaders recently came together to highlight their work around education policies. On Zoom on Jan. 26, Senate Speaker Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), and State Representative Camille Lilly participated in a forum hosted by the Oak Park District 97 Legislative Action, Advocacy, and Oversight (CLAIM) Committee. For the past nine years, CLAIM members have led a panel, inviting area lawmakers to discuss issues that could impact school districts, not just his own, but many others across the state.
During the hour-long event, Lightford spoke about House Bill 2170, also known as The Education and Workforce Equity Act, which was supported by the Illinois Black Legislative Caucus and signed by the Governor. JB Pritzker last March. Lightford, who sponsored the legislation, broke the law, which sought to revamp a set of educational policies affecting students of color at different grade levels. Among many efforts, the law set new requirements for high school graduation, expanded computer literacy programs for elementary students, and addressed students’ socio-emotional needs. More early intervention programs, changes to education programs to remove barriers for teachers of color, and a move to introduce an inclusive history lesson are also part of the Equity Act.
“We wanted to make sure there was an opportunity to adjust and promote fairness and equity and opportunity for all marginalized communities who face different barriers to their education,” Lightford told Jay Rowell , one of the panel moderators and member of CLAIM.
The act also aimed to create the Whole Child Task Force to provide more resources for students with trauma. Lightford said the task force was created to ensure children in Illinois schools have access to teachers or social workers trained in restorative practices and able to support them. Lightford said the task force is expected to release a report in the coming month and hopes the report will provide insight into how Oak Park school districts can better support their students of color.
“Oak Park Schools have always been on top of progressive legislation, and I think that’s really crucial because there are still questions about how African-American students aren’t as supported in the Oak Park School District,” she said. “I hope that through the Whole Child report, the resulting definitions and suggestions can help Oak Park school districts identify the challenges that appear to exist.”
Another topic of discussion was whether lawmakers would add the COVID vaccine to the list of vaccines required for schools and daycares.
“I want to tell people [that] at this point, there is no serious conversation about requiring a vaccine for school attendance,” Harmon told viewers. “Although the vaccine appears to be safe and effective for children, vaccines licensed for school-aged children are still under emergency use authorization and are generally unapproved.”
Lilly also told viewers that she and Harmon participated in roundtables with families in the area and raised concerns about COVID-19 vaccines. Lilly’s divided parents are also worried about their children’s socio-emotional needs as the pandemic continues.
“I’m very much looking forward to having more of these conversations,” she said, adding that she would also like to launch a platform for young people to talk about their experiences in this “new world.”
“It’s really important for all of us to understand that the pandemic has caused us to change from a public point of view – how we do what we do now in our society – and our young people are the most affected by this,” Lilly said. , noting the only way forward is to work together.
As the conversation continued, Lightford, Lilly, Ford and Harmon talked about their goals and other initiatives to meet the needs of their communities. For starters, Lightford told viewers she’s looking forward to learning more about the workforce, dispelling myths around unemployment, and creating more opportunities for workers who need jobs and educational resources.
Ford, who represents Chicago’s West Side, told viewers he plans to continue his advocacy on gun violence issues in his communities, while Lilly seeks to push for health care reforms, particularly for homes. pensioners and medical workers such as caregivers. Harmon, on the other hand, said he was focusing on state finances and embracing a balanced budget.
“Everything else we want to do in the state depends on the foundation of a stable, predictable state budget,” Harmon said, “so I’m going to stay focused on that and then work with members of our caucuses to try to advance their own individual priorities.