A Bad Law Must Be Broken- Why The Possible Chicago Teachers Strike Is Over So Much More Than Pay and Benefits

My classroom is decorated with historical figures who inspire me. Every person on my wall worked to do what’s right, because they envisioned what a better future should be like for all people. These individuals cared so deeply about their country that they put themselves on the line to advocate for others even if what was right was not popular or even legal.

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I became a social studies teacher because of them. These individuals knew that those in power used legislation and laws to control, discriminate, harm, and dehumanize people. People like Dolores Huerta who broke an Arizona law that prevented people from saying the words “strike” and “boycott”. People like Sal Castro who ignored the laws that made it illegal for him to teach his students what their over-crowded and underfunded East L.A. school system was being deprived of and helped them plan mass walkouts. When these activists came across a damaging and controlling law, they would examine it, understand it and purposefully refuse to follow it.

In Illinois, there currently exists a damaging and controlling law, a law that became official in 1995. Known as the Chicago School Reform Act, this law was created to silence teachers’ voices calling for equity in public schools.  It gives the mayor full control of the school system and school board. And in an effort to make us look greedy it forbids teachers from striking over anything besides pay and benefits. The law makes it impossible for educators to force the city to admit that having over 30 kids in class is unjust, that not having a librarian in 9 out of 10 majority Black schools is unjust, that a critical shortage of nurses, counselors, and social workers system wide is unjust.

This insidious law makes teachers look greedy and weakens our power because the city only has to negotiate pay and benefits with us. This law continues to allow those in power to ignore the conditions and lack of resources in Chicago Public Schools.  This law makes the teachers who are on the front lines, unable to get the city to negotiate over truly improving our public schools.

This is why the Chicago TribuneSun Times and even our own school system calls us greedy by perpetuating these opinions. They want us to simply take a raise.They want us to just trust that the Mayor will do right by the students. They want us to ignore the fact that Chicago’s schools have been criminally underfunded for generations. Every student who ever attended CPS knows this fact. Every parent of a CPS student knows this. Every teacher who has ever taught in CPS knows this too.

Our schools should have so much more than what they currently have or have ever had.  This is why many politicians and people in power don’t send their own children to CPS, because the inequities are devastating.

94% of Chicago’s educators just authorized our union to strike. In 2012, when we went on strike we had 90% of teachers vote to strike. In 2012 Chicago Public Schools was trying to take pay away from us. Now CPS is willing to give us our cost of living increases without a fight, so why did more teachers vote to strike this time then in 2012? We are so fed up with looking into our kids faces every day and knowing this city truly doesn’t give a damn about them.  We are done waiting on verbal promises from the city.

Mayor Lightfoot claims she’s not Rahm. Maybe she wasn’t when she ran but since she’s become Mayor, I hear a whole lot of Rahm in her statements. Rahm called us greedy, Rahm talked badly about us when we had our strike vote and Rahm sued our union when we struck in 2012 because we wanted to negotiate over things besides pay and benefits. Mayor Lightfoot has done all of those things, besides sue our union. But if she continues the failing Rahm playbook I’m sure the city is already planning to sue the Chicago Teachers Union if we strike on October 17th. The city will sue us because as educators we dare to demand that our students have everything they deserve, in writing.

Mayor Lightfoot said a strike would be “catastrophic” for the students. In a series of posts on Twitter with the hashtag #PutItInWriting, educators and supporters detailed the real catastrophe and decade long catastrophic effects from the lack of funding and resources for our CPS schools and students.

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EVERYTHING that our students and schools deserve, in writing, includes:

  • Place full-time librarians, counselors, clinicians, psychologists, social workers and nurses in every school
  • Make sure all students get special education services they are entitled to by law
  • Hire special education teachers, case managers and paraprofessionals
  • Maintain real class size limits
  • Give us the freedom to plan, grade & be professionals on our teacher preps (the limited time during the day when we don’t have students in front of us)
  • Establish true restorative justice programs in schools
  • Take police officers out of schools
  • Make all schools sanctuary schools
  • Provide mental health services for all students and staff

If the city chooses NOT to give our students these requests in writing, then the city is following in the path of Mayors Daley and Emanuel by ignoring what the students deserve. If this city actually cared about the students it “serves” it would not be arguing with those on the front lines of education, the educators.

If this city cared about its children, it would happily fund our education system. Chicago quickly gave $33 million more to keep the police in the schools, even though many students, parents, and teachers objected. The city will hand over money to the police department to incarcerate our youth but will not do the same to educate them.

When Bernie Sanders was in Chicago recently, publicly supporting public school educators, he said, “…teaching is one of the most patriotic professions that you can do.”  It is our patriotic duty to do whatever it takes to get our students what they deserve.

The Chicago Teachers Union will strike over pay and benefits. But me, and many others, we will be striking to disrupt the status quo. We will be striking against systemic racism and generational neglect in our public schools.

We will be attempting to follow the lead of those people that I have on my classroom walls. The people that I’ve always aspired to emulate. There have always been bad laws used to harm, discriminate, and to silence people. It’s once again time to ignore laws like that.

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It’s time to do what is right for our students.

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To view this piece on SouthSideWeekly click here and for ChicagoNow click here

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