FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryam Judar
August 27, 2015 Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
CITIZEN ADVOCACY CENTER AND AREA HIGH SCHOOLS
WELCOME NELI FARAHMANDPOUR, TEEN VOTING ADVOCATE,
TO CELEBRATE CONSTITUTION WEEK
A former Stevenson High School student who helped win enactment of “Suffrage at 17” — a law that allows Illinois 17-year-olds to vote in primaries — will be the featured speaker at 2015 Constitution Week events co-sponsored by the Citizen Advocacy Center and area high schools. She will also be speaking at an evening forum to be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2015 at the Citizen Advocacy Center office, 182 N. York Street, Elmhurst, Illinois.
Neli Farahmandpour, a 2014 Stevenson graduate, will speak at suburban high schools about the First Amendment’s right to petition as an important thread in the fabric of American democracy.
“I think that everyone is passionate about at least one topic, and I sincerely hope that students across the state can use their constitutional rights to lobby for what they believe in,” said Farahmandpour, currently a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “And while that may not always be easy and may involve a lot of time and effort, every single student in Illinois is capable of contributing to changes that they would like to see in our state.”
Observed annually from Sept. 17 to 23, Constitution Week commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. Celebrating this event is a way to remember the importance of a document held in esteem worldwide for empowering “We the People” with the rights and responsibilities to engage in the democratic process. In particular, the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition are essential to ensure a healthy democracy and hold government accountable.
“Constitution Week recognizes the importance of our founding document by introducing students and adults to constitutional issues through dynamic speakers with firsthand knowledge of what it means to fight for freedom,” said Andrea Alvarez, community lawyer at Citizen Advocacy Center. “Ms. Farahmandpour knows from her own experience the significant role that students can play in creating political change thanks to the First Amendment’s right to petition, and she has a remarkable personal story to share.”
During a summer class before her junior year in high school, Farahmandpour learned about “Suffrage at 17” — a proposal, already law in several other states, that 17-year-olds be permitted to vote in primary elections if they are going to turn 18 by the time of the general election. Her instructor, Stevenson government teacher Andrew Conneen, broached the subject while he took attendance one day.
“He asked a fellow classmate when his birthday was, and the student replied that it was in May,” she said. “I distinctly remember Mr. Conneen turning to him and asking, ‘Now wouldn’t it be great if you were allowed to vote in the primary elections?’ ”
As president of Stevenson’s Law Club, Farahmandpour recognized the potential lobbying power that her classmates could bring on behalf of a bill changing the Illinois voting age for primaries. By early 2013, HB- 226 had been introduced in the General Assembly with bipartisan support.
“Stevenson’s Law Club and Political Action Club teamed up to host meetings regarding the proposed law and what it would entail,” Farahmandpour recalled. “In March of 2013, several students from the two clubs went to Springfield to meet with members of the Illinois Senate to lobby for the bill. I had the distinct honor of testifying in front of the Senate Executive Committee, alongside Mr. Conneen, where we were able explain why we thought passing Suffrage at 17 would be so beneficial.”
The House passed the bill in April by a vote of 95-22, and a month later the Senate passed it 43-9. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure into law July 3 in a ceremony at Stevenson High School, with Farahmandpour and other students looking on.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned was the value of bipartisan support,” she said. “I don’t think Suffrage at 17 would have passed if we didn’t have support from members belonging to both political parties. I also learned the importance of working together as a community. Everyone worked really hard — not individually but as a team.”
Farahmandpour’s experience with the First Amendment right to petition turned out to be a successful one. She believes other young people can achieve similar success if they’re willing to take the initiative and become engaged in civic life.
“One major point that I would really like to get across to my audiences during Constitution Week is the value of involvement, as well as the effects of persistence,” she said. “I think it is so important for high school students across the state — as well as across the nation — to get involved in civics.”
In previous years, Citizen Advocacy Center has hosted dynamic speakers showcasing other First Amendment freedoms. These include Mary Beth Tinker, free-speech advocate and plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court student free-speech case, and Jessica Ahlquist, freedom-of-religion advocate and plaintiff in a successful lawsuit challenging her high school’s endorsement of religion.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community-based legal organization dedicated to building democracy for the 21st century by increasing the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. For more information, visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org or call 630-833-4080.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryam Judar
August 24, 2015 Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
ELMHURST - On August 21, civics became law in the Land of Lincoln. A standalone civics semester will be required at all Illinois public high schools starting with the Class of 2020. The Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) has been a tenacious advocate for bringing back civics to Illinois public schools and played a major role in the strong coalition effort that resulted in this successful outcome.
“Civic education is core to the work of CAC as community lawyers routinely answer basic information about the structure and function of government. In addition, CAC community lawyers have worked with schools for over two decades to help teachers convert classrooms and communities into civic labs,” explained CAC Executive Director Maryam Judar.
CAC’s advocacy efforts for civic education policy reform at the state level include: authoring and suggesting reform recommendations within the Illinois Civic Health Index 2010 that was published by the National Conference on Citizenship and in collaboration with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; writing the “Advocacy and Policy” chapter within the Illinois Civic Blueprint that was published by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; spearheading and advocating within the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition Public Policy Committee; spearheading the creation of the Civic Education Legislative Task Force which was charged with assessing Illinois civic education standards and making reform recommendations; and advocating for hands-on civic education as an appointee to the Task Force.
“On behalf of CAC, I would like to acknowledge the partners and collaborators who played a leading role in the effort to bring civics back to Illinois public high schools,” said Ms. Judar.
DuPage County Regional Superintendent Darlene Ruscitti has been a longtime advocate for civic education through supporting civic efforts throughout DuPage County, including the convening of two county-wide Civic Summits for high school students and advocating for the passage of the “Year of Civic Engagement” Resolution by the DuPage County Board.
Former Attorney General Jim Ryan who established the Center for Civic Leadership at Benedictine University, is a vocal advocate for civic education of youth, and was pivotal in the creation of Illinois’ Legislative Task Force on Civic Education charged with assessing the current state of civics in Illinois.
Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar at the McCormick Foundation and Chair of both the Task Force and the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, is a champion for high quality civic education for all Illinois students, the promotion of the Democracy Schools program, and has been indefatigable in his efforts to strengthen civic education.
“There are many additional organizations and people who came together to bring civics back to Illinois. CAC is proud to have worked with many outstanding collaborators and to have played an instrumental role to change the civic landscape that will impact all youth,” said Ms. Judar.
“The commitment of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation was essential to the successful effort of returning civics to all public school students,” said Ms. Judar. “They have been a leader in promoting civic education for years through supporting organizations engaged in civic education. They have taken on a leadership role in advocating for legislative reform and in the implementation of their vision to hurdle financial obstacles through the establishment of a public-private partnership of foundation and corporations that will fund professional development to ensure that civics teachers receive adequate support to teach a high-quality, standalone semester of civics.”
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community-based legal nonprofit dedicated to building democracy in the 21st century by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. Visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org for more information.
Below is an update on HB 4025 from Shawn Healy, Chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition
Please prepare and send your emails no later than this Friday, June 12.
Thanks for all of your help to date in our legislative effort to bring civics back to Illinois high schools through HB 4025. After passing the Illinois General Assembly by strong, bi-partisan majorities, the bill moves next to the Governor's desk. I'm writing to request your help in reaching out to him via email, urging Governor Rauner to sign this transformational legislation.
Sample email language is provided below. I encourage you to add your own qualifications and experiences as a civics practitioner and/or advocate. Also here is a link to additional information on HB 4025.
Upon completion, send your email to Governor Rauner using the online comment form on his web site.
If time permits, you may want to follow up with a phone call to the Governor's office at 217-782-0244 to ensure that your email was received. Please prepare and send your emails no later than this Friday, June 12.
Thanks in advance for your timely attention to this critical outreach. Together, we are bringing civics back to high schools throughout Illinois.
Yours in civics, Shawn
Shawn P. Healy, PhD
Chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition
Shawn Healy also served as the Chair of the Illinois Civic Education Task Force and has been working tirelessly to pass HB4025.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2015
Contact: Maryam Judar
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
ILLINOIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY PASSES BILL REQUIRING CIVIC EDUCATION
AS A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION REQUIREMENT; HEADS TO THE GOVERNOR
ELMHURST – On May 30, House Bill 4025, a bill mandating civic education in Illinois as a high school requirement has passed through the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor. Illinois is currently one of only 10 states in the nation that does not require civic education. At a time when bipartisan divisions run deep in the General Assembly, the civic education bill sponsored by Representative Conroy (D-Villa Park) in the House and Senator Cullerton (D-Villa Park) in the Senate, passed with strong bipartisan support. In addition, the Citizen Advocacy Center played a major role in the strong coalition effort that successfully generated public awareness for how required civic education could change the civic landscape in Illinois.
“Our state needs well-prepared students who have the ability to tackle tough issues impacting their communities and Illinois. A semester of civics will provide students with the knowledge of how government works and how to impact government decision-making on issues they care about,” said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.
The legislation is supported by funding through a public-private partnership led by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to provide high-quality, school-based civic learning opportunities for all students in Illinois. Over three million dollars have been pledged over the next three years to provide history teachers with professional development in civic education.
HB 4025 is based on recommendations of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Civic Education, of which Ms. Judar was an appointed member. In 2014, the Task Force recommended that Illinois require a stand-alone civic education course in high school after analyzing the current state of civic education in Illinois; civic education laws in other jurisdictions with mandated civic education; and best practices in civic education in other jurisdictions. The primary goal of requiring civic education is to increase civic literacy by increasing the capacity of youth to learn the knowledge, skills, and practices necessary to become civically informed and engaged.
Hundreds of people testified in favor of civic education when the Task Force held multiple public hearings throughout Illinois. Additional Task Force recommendations include: revision of Illinois Social Studies Standards, which is currently underway; a required civic service learning project in middle and high school; access to professional development aligned to best practices; and involvement by students in the election process.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-partisan community-based legal nonprofit dedicated to building democracy in the 21st century by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. Visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org for more information.
Thank you for action and your passion! HB4025 passed in the IL House of Representatives on Friday April 24th with a vote of 81 in favor and 29 opposed. You can see how your representative voted here. Now it goes to the IL Senate. CAC will continue to keep you informed of developments and how you can help. Thanks again!
Join us for an informative and educational evening! Details below:
CAC Constitution Week Forum Monday September 16th at 6:30 pm at the Center
To commemorate Constitution Day, Celebrate First Amendment Freedoms, and Inspire Civic Participation!
Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. Celebrating Constitution Day provides an opportunity for the public to remember the importance of a document held in esteem worldwide for empowering “We the People” with the rights and responsibilities to engage in the democratic process. The First Amendment Freedoms, (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to petition our government, freedom to assemble, and freedom of religion) are essential components that ensure a healthy democracy and the capacity to hold government accountable.
“Constitution Week recognizes the importance of our founding document by introducing students and adults to constitutional issues through dynamic speakers with first-hand knowledge of what it means to fight for
freedom. Ms. Hayes’ experiences illustrate the tensions in our democracy while sharing a remarkable journey in
First Amendment advocacy, ” said Maryam Judar, community lawyer at the Citizen Advocacy Center.
In collaboration with area high schools, and made possible with support from the McCormick Foundation, the focus of this year’s Constitution Week is the constitutional right to peaceful assembly in protesting government activity. As with previous Constitution Week speakers, the Citizen Advocacy Center is highlighting the importance of a robust legal infrastructure for public participation and is not endorsing any particular position on the specific issues Ms. Hayes is passionate about.
Ms. Hayes is a youth organizer who has participated in several community organizing initiatives. These include planning of the Chicago NATO protest in the Spring of 2012; Chicago Occupy Protests; and opposition to the City of Chicago’s ordinance curtailing First Amendment rights, dubbed by the press as the “Sit Down and Shut Up Ordinance.” She is also a Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) trainer. Her advocacy has focused on combating austerity measures by government as well as advocating for social justice issues. She is presently involved in the battle for public education in Chicago and in the creation of a city wide series of NVDA trainings for student activists.
While in the western suburbs, Ms. Hayes will speak to hundreds of high school students, including those at York High School in Elmhurst and Glenbard South in Glen Ellyn, about utilizing her First Amendment freedoms to peaceably assemble and petition the government. Students will hear her first-hand accounts and have the opportunity to ask questions. Community lawyer Maryam Judar will accompany Ms. Hayes to provide the constitutional context for her participation in the government decision making process.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-partisan community based legal organization dedicated to building democracy for the 21st Century by increasing the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. The Citizen Advocacy Center is funded entirely through contributions from individuals and foundations. We do not accept corporate or government funding. This allows us to maintain our independence and provide unbiased advice, analysis, and commentary.
**This blog post was written by a non-legal intern and should not serve as legal advice. If one is seeking legal advice they should consult a practicing attorney**
John Dryden, a Social Studies teacher at Batavia High School, has found himself on thin ice after teaching his students their Constitutional rights against self-incrimination.
Batavia High School asked teachers to circulate a survey to students with questions about drug and alcohol use. After noticing his students’ names were printed on a survey Dryden instructed his students that the Fifth Amendment gave them rights to refuse to fill it out. Word started to circulate around the school that Dryden informed students of their option not to fill out the survey. Students rallied around Dryden’s actions and the media reported on the event. For Dryden, the school board deemed his conduct “unprofessional” and he was issued a one day suspension without pay with a “notice to remedy” letter on his file.
Dryden argued that the student drug and alcohol survey put the students in danger of self-incrimination. He said it was “dumb luck” that he even noticed the names of the students printed on the surveys a mere ten minutes before class started. “I made a judgment call. There was no time to ask anyone,” as reported in the Daily Herald. When asked about what he would do if the situation arose again, Dryden said he would make the same decision.
The board claimed the survey was solely to test students’ social and emotional health and that it was meant to be a “screener” so that students who may pose a risk to themselves or others could get help from social workers or other available assistance. The board claimed that the survey would stay in a “temporary file” and would not be used to incriminate students.
According to news reports, the school provided a memo for the teachers, but the memo did not address whether the survey was mandatory and the teachers also received advance notice that such surveys would be given out, however, the memo never disclosed that students’ names would be on them. This was the first year that the school district chose to have surveys with names.
The school board also sent out an email to parents stating that students did not have to take the survey as long as they notified the district at a predetermined deadline. However, the email was not sent directly to students, so the only time they could refuse to take the survey was the time it was handed out.
Considering all the issues playing out in the current NSA government spying regarding aggregate data, the school board should have acted professionally rather than accusing Dryden, especially after all the debate about temporary files, stored files, permission to keep files on individuals. Instead of being taught about the opportunities for assistance the school has to offer, the school seemed to feel they could just target students and force them to use these programs. High school students have the responsibilities and access of adults and yet in instances like this are treated as children. It’s ironic that high school students read 1984 as a part of their school curriculum but are prevented from making privacy-related judgment calls for themselves.
Another issue is that the school assumed that students would tell the truth with their names plastered on the survey. I do not believe that any high school student would be dumb enough to willingly admit to involvement in any illicit activities.
In my opinion as a student, it seems that our rights are minimal at school. Only sending the email to parents notifying them of the survey not only cuts out all those parents who don’t use email, it incorrectly implies that guardians of citizens under the age of 18 can make decisions about Fifth Amendment rights.
Dryden took the extra step. He taught the students how to apply their rights to a situation first-hand, a lesson they would remember, instead of making them read a dry textbook to memorize facts that would be soon forgotten. Not many teachers are willing to take the risk to protect their students. What does it say that the ones that do get punished for their bravery.
I applaud Dryden for what he did because, honestly, it’s not easy to find an adult who takes high school students seriously. It’s surprising to find a teacher who believes that our privacy is also worth a fight, and the fact that Dryden is still fighting for our rights, even with the threats to his career, is honorable.
2013 High School Summer Intern
Maryam Judar, Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center
Elementary & Secondary Education Committee
Testimony in support of H.B. 2428
March 6, 2013
The Citizen Advocacy Center submits this letter to the Elementary & Secondary Education Committee in support of the Task Force on Civic Education described in H.B. 2428.
The Citizen Advocacy Center (Center) is an award winning, non-profit, non-partisan, community-based, legal organization. Its mission is to “Build Democracy for the 21st Century.” Since 1994, community lawyers have worked to build democracy by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. The Center motivates individuals and community groups to seek systemic solutions to issues of public concern and works to improve democratic protocols in local and state government to ensure optimal public participation in the democratic process.
The Center believes that a healthy democracy relies on a balance between government accessibility, accountability, and transparency on one side and citizen participation that is informed, active, effective, and sustained on the other. A democracy is only as strong as its participants. Many of the concerned community members throughout Illinois who contact the Center for assistance have little idea how to navigate the government decision-making process, or even to identify the appropriate government body that is key in solving a problem of public concern.
Thus, an integral component of our work is civic education. The Civic Empowerment Zone is the Center’s youth civic education program and provides resources to fill the gap in civic education at our public schools and promotes the idea that civic education is a learned skill. Just like other subjects such as reading, math, art, and science, civic skills must be practiced regularly in order to develop proficiency and confidence.
The task is enormous. While some schools shine in imparting civic education to their entire student bodies, most have relegated few resources to social studies and civics in order to meet national standards in other subjects. Through our work with schools in the collar counties and suburban Cook County, the Center has learned that our school districts, school administrators, and teachers are ill equipped and without solid legislative direction to implement stronger civic education programs in their schools. In light of Illinois’ recent adoption of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts & Literacy in History/ Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects, the time to evaluate what is the status of civic education in Illinois through a Task Force on Civic Education is now.
In Jim Slusher’s “Voting is ‘Plan Only,’ and we have duty to help,” he quotes a reader who says the “solution (to problems in local government) is greater citizen involvement to enhance public accountability.” Slusher and the reader draw the legitimate conclusion that our eligible voting population is not using its power to hold local officials accountable.
While voters surely hold this power, there are more direct mechanisms to holding local officials accountable while they conduct our governments’ business, and that is through monitoring local government activities. Of course, if people perceive they lack time, or treat their civic duty as a low priority, they will not utilize this method. In fact, according to the 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index, less than 10 percent of state residents had attended a public meeting of one of their local governments in the preceding year.
The problem is straightforward, and it’s dire: Illinois fails to educate its youth in civics. Without a civically educated public, fewer involve themselves in using the political process to help prioritize and solve the problems they’ve identified as pressing concerns in their communities. The ultimate result is a crisis of legitimacy. People don’t believe that the political system represents their interests, and yet they lack the confidence and skills to exercise their crucial role as responsible, civic-minded individuals to shape the political system to reflect a government we want, rather than one imposed upon us.
How can we increase civic participation, whether through voting or through monitoring, in Illinois? We all need to clamor for legislative and financial support for stronger civic education curriculums at all our public schools so our state’s future residents will be poised to help solve the pressing problems our state faces.
Citizen Advocacy Center