Mayor Rahm Emanuel will bypass Chicago Public Schools, like many high-profile politicians before him, and send his children to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Hyde Park this fall.
The mayor's administration confirmed Thursday that Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, decided to send their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah, to the same school once attended by Barack and Michelle Obama's daughters, Malia and Sasha.
Emanuel, who was in New York for an Obama fundraiser when the news broke, has maintained that where the couple send their children to school is a personal, not a political, decision. But the choice led inevitably to criticism that city leaders who send their children to private schools have no personal stake in Chicago's public schools.
"I'm not in a position to question his choice. Every parent has the right to do that," said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. "But I do think he has to recognize that his choice has sent a message to Chicago public school parents.
"It sends a message that he has not found a Chicago public school that he is confident enough to send his kids to."
Emanuel's children previously attended a private religious school in Chicago before moving to Washington while he served as President Obama's White House chief of staff. They attended private schools in Washington and finished the school year there.
During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel faced the question of whether Chicago public schools were good enough for his kids. He declined then to say where his children would go.
At a recent news conference, Emanuel said the decision was one to make privately with his wife, taking into consideration what is best for their children and their education.
"This is what you have to respect. I live in public life. I'm a father to three great children, and that's a private life," Emanuel said. "If I use my kids' education in any political context, I'd be less of a father than I want to be."
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Former Mayor Richard Daley sent his children to Catholic schools, even as he made it clear Chicago could not survive without vibrant public schools. Emanuel, too, has made improving CPS a key focus of his young administration.
The Emanuels' home is in Ravenswood, where the local schools are Lake View High School and Ravenswood Elementary.
Many families who live in that neighborhood, however, compete for elite Chicago public high schools — selective enrollment schools such as Northside College Prep — where students need top grades and high test scores for admission.
Those high schools also allow principals to admit a handful of students using principal discretion. The controversial process has come under fire in recent years over whether clout plays a role in students landing the coveted spots.
To gain admissions into magnet CPS schools, some of the top elementary schools in the district, students have to win a spot through a lottery.
Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University's Center for Urban Education, said either way Emanuel was in a difficult situation.
"There's no way they could've gotten into a selective enrollment school without heavy suspicion," Radner said. "If it had happened through a lottery, everyone would've been suspicious too. It wouldn't have worked out."
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who has objected to Emanuel's plans to withhold teacher pay raises and change work rules, issued a less-than-subtle statement about the mayor's decision.
"We understand why he would choose a school with small class sizes; a broad, rich curriculum that offers world languages, the arts and physical education; a focus on critical thinking, not test-taking; a teacher and an assistant in every elementary classroom; and paid, high-quality professional development for their teacher," Lewis said. "It's wonderful that he has that option available to him."