A parent's letter to PTAVE
November 2002


This writing will probably represent one of the most sensitive and disturbing issues at large concerning our children, and the Chicago Public Schools. Moms and Dads, please be ready to listen, because what I am about to convey to you is true. I will withhold the full names of the individuals who have provided me with information concerning this matter. What I am about to tell you, is something that may have been taking place for a long time. It happened yesterday. It happened today, and will occur again tomorrow, somewhere, at a public high school, right here in the City of Chicago, and perhaps in other cities as well. With little effort, just about anyone can seek and question the countless individuals who will speak openly about this. It may just happen to be your own child. There are probably many victims, but it is not just something that a young man of thirteen or fourteen years of age will open up about and tell his mother or father. At one time it was suggested that I, myself, enter a high school and pose as a student, just to witness these events that I am about to describe. But since we would be doing it on our own, without any help from the proper authorities, it would have been illegal.

It was never really necessary to pose as a student. I had firsthand information from some of the individuals who attended the various high schools around Chicago. Even though I found what these kids were telling me to be quite disturbing, I never thought I could do anything about it. And why would I want to anyway? All I could say is that my kids would NEVER attend any of the public high schools in Chicago.

It wasn't until I learned about the situation in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, that I decided to address this issue. In the Pennsylvania case, the ACLU had threatened to sue the Hollidaysburg Area School District. They argued that a "mandatory" shower requirement, after physical education classes, was intrusive, and that it violated a student's privacy, by forcing them to be naked in front of their peers. This fight began when a student by the name of Wendy Hardie, circulated a petition, asking the school to lift the requirement. Well, the school refused. That's when the ACLU stepped in. I congratulate Wendy for her efforts. The ACLU prevailed. NON Wendy, we need you here in Chicago.

It is known to those who are associated with any of Chicago's public high schools, that students are required to take swimming classes, in conjunction with their physical education course at these schools. In order to graduate, the student must pass all phases of the physical education course. So what's the problem? Well, when boys are assigned to their swimming classes, they are told to leave their swim suits at home. "So what? This is healthy," you might say. "The pool stays cleaner," they say. What's the big deal? Well, again, as in the Hollidaysburg situation, you may have some developing young boys who just do not want to be naked if front of anybody. I might mention though, that there is sometimes an exception in the requirement, as you will not find this to be true at every school.

It is my understanding, that most all of the high schools in Chicago offer the JROTC program. The JROTC course can be taken in lieu of P. E. And some of the schools, like Carl Schurz High, on the northwest side of the city, does not require the ROTC students to take swimming. So, as you may have guessed it: The boys who do not want to swim in the nude, and if for no other reason, choose to take the ROTC program. Now, at Lane Technical High School, the story is much different. Regardless, all students must take swimming. At Amundsen High School, they were required take swimming twice a week. Again, each school has its own policy. I guess it is up to the ones who are in charge.

Some kids are very sensitive to this policy of swimming in the nude. Some would be found sitting there in the locker room, stripped down as far as their underwear, crying, I am told. Others would skip, or "cut" the class, in order to avoid it. And there were those who just did not care if they failed the P. E. course. Usually, they would never give the real reason for why they were not showing up for their swimming classes. Well, a kid by the name of Steve K., of Lake View High School, would avoid his swimming class just about every time. I would see him at a restaurant on Irving Park Rd., occasionally. I knew he was supposed to be in class during that time. He once admitted that he was AWOL from his swimming class, because he found it to be "too humiliating" for him. He would begin to tell me why, but then, misty eyed, he would hesitate. I finally asked him to explain.

He continued by telling me about this game the instructor would make them play. He told me that the instructor would announce that "the last one in the pool" would get (what was called) "the hamburger." And very often HE was the last one in. He then said that he had to endure this most humiliating experience, where they got as many boys as possible, onto the diving board, and he had to "squeeze through this configuration of bodies" until he reached the end of the board, and fell off the end, on into the pool. Now wait a minute. What is this all about? What does this all have to do with learning how to swim?

To begin with, I observe two safety violations. First of all, if you remember, no matter what swimming pool facility you were at, they would always make sure that they covered all of the safety rules, and made sure that we understood them. " No running in the pool area." Remember folks? And secondly: There was also that safety rule about having more than one person at a time on the diving board. It was "prohibited." You were not even allowed to have one foot on the step, at the beginning of the board, when someone else was on it. If you did, you found yourself writing out the safety rules a few hundred times, or you were asked to leave. Who is running the show at Lake View High School? Tom W., a student from Amundsen High, told me that they often had substitutes in his swimming class. "We've had some weird ones," he said. Gary H., of Roosevelt High, said that they made them do an exercise that made him "throw up." He was too embarrassed to explain.

The more I heard these stories, the more I wondered about who was behind those whistles, and who was behind them? But that's only the beginning. Now, Lance W., from Lane Tech High, told me the most appalling thing of all. In his swimming class, if a boy became turgid, he was made to stand on the diving board. And no covering was allowed either. The student was made to put his hands on his head, or out to his sides and stand there, until things were to the satisfaction of the instructor. Another kid, Bill F., told me that the same punishment was also administered in his class at Lane Tech. Excuse me, but I certainly do not need anyone teaching my kid about maintaining self control! What kind of people are running the show here?

Is this a common practice at these schools? Is this a technique that was taught at George Williams? How about Remon K., of Carl Schurz High School? One time he, unfortunately, embarrassed himself in his swimming class, and the instructor made him stand there in front of all of his peers. The whole school knew about this by the end of the day, I was told. Do you think that he went home that evening and talked about this incident at the dinner table?

Is all of this some form of subservient taxpayer-sanctioned and "legalized" institutional child abuse? I am convinced that it is no less, and that I do not believe that I am overreacting to this. What if your child came home from school and told YOU that he was a victim of this humiliation and abuse? If mine did, we'd have more than the ACLU there. My attorney would be there too. We have been attempting to subdue the abuses to the elderly in nursing homes, and to the children in day care facilities, but no one has ever taken a stand on these improprieties that are occurring in our public high schools. And until we do, they will continue. Friends, we are speaking of much more than just taking showers in front of peers.

The constitutional issue is not in question here at all. The ruling that applies in the Hollidaysburg Area School District, in Pennsylvania, applies just the same, to all of the Chicago Public School Districts, here in Cook County, Illinois. They are both in the United States of America. Once it is VALIDATED here in the Chicago Public Schools, it will prevent these improprieties from taking place. Please do not substantiate the veracity of the incidents that I have described, by this writing alone. I encourage you to take it upon yourselves, especially those of you who do have children in a high school in this city, to conduct you own fact-finding mission.

If you have a good relationship with your child, he will probably talk to you. In any case, please make sure that if you are going to question a student, who is under the age of 18, that you are a person in familial or custodial authority. If you feel uncertain or uncomfortable, you may want to enlist the help of an older sibling -- one who also attends one of these schools. Former students will usually talk, because they have nothing to lose. A noticeable decline in the child's P. E. grade, especially if he has always done well in this course, prior to entering high school, may indicate that there is a problem. Check to see if there is a pattern of absenteeism from his swimming class, by contacting his division teacher. He may also have claimed that he does not feel well, because he is purposely wanting to stay home, or even be late on the days that he has the swimming class. Any of these clues can be an indication that there is in fact a problem. An incident mayor may not have occurred. It may also indicate that he is just not comfortable with the swimming arrangements. If so, please understand that he is NOT abnormal or maladjusted. He is not being indifferent. Please do not punish or scold him. Tell him that you appreciate his honesty. Let him know that it is his own personal and constitutional right. If it's discovered that he, himself, was a victim of these abuses, please contact your attorney.

This whole practice of treating our kids in this manner, must stop. As in the Hollidaysburg case, you and other parents can work to end this through meetings and petitions. If you should require additional testimony, other than that from those whom you will obtain from your findings (and you will), only one of the individuals that I have mentioned in the scenarios above, is no longer available. Steven, who was a well-liked, bright, and otherwise, a well adjusted kid, took his own life a few years ago.

Incidentally, I just happen to know an older gentleman, who is a Vietnam Veteran. He told me that he attended a Catholic high school, in Chicago, and no swimming course was offered (God forbid!). Even when he got out of the U.S. Army, he said that he still had not learned how to swim. Maybe that's why we lost that war. Oh yes... Let's not forget about Mr. John W. Gacy. Didn't he attend Prosser High? I wonder if these kind of things were taking place when he was in high school. Maybe we don't have to worry about any of this after all. He's gone, and our kids are forever safe now. My fellow Chicagoans, I'm not trying to drop a bomb here. I'm just trying to let you know that there are fires burning around your feet, but you are not smelling the smoke. I will not even suggest that you, as a parent, try to imagine yourself experiencing this unpleasant reality. As long as you continue to allow these unnecessary "requirements," and you allow children to be used as toys in these swimming classes, they will continue serve as the catalyst for the abuses that are taking place. It's time to remove our children from this stage, and to lower the curtain for good.

Please, find out who is behind the whistle at your child's school. If these kids will talk to me, they will talk to you too.

A Very Popular and Proud Parent In Chicago

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