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Parents protest ‘iron fist’ of Uptown principal

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Updated: May 28, 2014 4:45PM

A suspension for laughing too loudly in the lunchroom. Students wetting their pants because they’re not always allowed to use the bathroom.

The two dozen or so parents who gathered outside Joseph Brennemann Elementary School Wednesday say they want discipline in their Uptown school — just not the “iron fist” approach they say Principal Sarah Abedelal employs.

“I don’t think that’s necessary for these babies,” said protester Shineka Stephen, whose sixth-grade daughter attends Brennemann. “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Stephen describes her daughter, Asia, as basically a “good kid” who has been suspended at least four times in the current school year — including two days for being too loud in the school lunchroom.

“This is ridiculous,” Stephen said. “These are silly things kids do.”

Stephen’s was a common story among the parent protesters, who generally agree that the principal is focused on education — even if they don’t approve of her methods. Several said things are so bad at Brennemann that they plan to withdraw their kids at the end of the school year.

A Chicago Sun-Times reporter and photographer were not allowed into Brennemann to talk to Abedelal, and she did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Wednesday.

For those irate parents who’ve managed to schedule time to speak with Abedelal, it’s been a mostly frustrating experience, they say.

Parent Jennifer Stewart organized a meeting of concerned parents last fall. Abedelal accepted an invitation to come, but never addressed parents concerns about her disciplinary methods, Stewart said.

“She started this rant about how we live in a white man’s world,” said Stewart of Abedelal, who is African-American. “She talked about sagging jeans and boys with earrings.”

Not everyone sides with the protesting parents. Gloria Rivers, 59, a community representative on Brennemann’s Local School Council, called Abedelal a “disciplined” leader trying to bring order to a neighborhood plagued by gang problems.

“I’ve been in this neighborhood for 46 years and a lot of the kids around her are . . . gang affiliated,” Rivers said.

“We want [students] to be disciplined,” she added. “Because if you don’t get books in your mind and stop rebelling against authority, you [are] not going to make it.”

CPS spokesman Joel Hood, although not directly addressing the parents’ concerns about the principal, issued a statement about CPS’ evolving discipline policy at all schools, including Brennemann.

“While the district has moved away from a zero tolerance policy, and has made significant progress in reducing out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, there is much more work to do,” the statement said. “The suspensions and expulsions reduction plan, launched in February, aims to further reduce suspensions and expulsions by encouraging more schools to adopt alternatives to suspension, providing students with both the social-emotional learning support and instructional time that they need to succeed.

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