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The recently exposed Chicago prep school admission system -- a.k.a where politicians surreptitiously nudge hand-selected students into the city’s top schools -- has fried its biggest fish yet.
This week’s contestant for the ‘Who used their clout in an unscrupulous manner?’: U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
Durbin, a Senator since 1996 and the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, apparently wrote a letter to Jones College Prep urging the elite school to admit one of his staffer’s daughters, his office told the Sun-Times on Monday.
The letter didn’t violate any rules, but it comes amid a firestorm of controversy over politically connected individuals using their influence to win acceptance for less qualified students to the city’s top school.
Durbin’s letter implored the principal of Jones College Prep, one of nine elite college prep schools in Chicago, to eschew normal admissions criteria like grades, test scores or attendance and let a student in as a “principal pick.”
The principal pick policy emerged two years ago and gives prep school principals the ability to hand select up to 5 percent of an incoming freshman class based on criteria other than grades. Durbin’s favor falls into that category.
“It’s a principal pick so we’ll look at it,” Schools Inspector General James Sullivan told the Sun-Times. “Did Durbin's letter influence this particular principal to exercise principal discretion for this particular student? ... The problem is, it’s all subjective. How many of those criteria [for admitting students outside the normal guidelines] do you have to have? Is one kid's hardship more difficult than another’s?”
In the letter, Durbin during his six years of knowing the young lady she demonstrated an intelligence that would place her at the top of the Jones Prep incoming class. A Sun-Times investigation, however, showed that the girls test scores were below the average for an incoming Jones student.
“I’ve had the pleasure of watching [the girl] grow from an inquisitive and precocious 7-year-old into the extremely bright, articulate and mature young lady she is today,” Durbin wrote. She “is a gifted young woman ... and I am confident that she will make an excellent addition to the class of 2013,” he wrote.
The Sun-Times notes that the names and places were redacted from the letter, which is believed to be the only such letter Durbin has penned.