‘The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized’: Day Two of the Chicago Teachers Strike
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Herman said she thinks there’s much public misunderstanding of some of the key issues being negotiated, including the question of what happens to teachers laid off at closed “failing” schools.
The union has insisted those teachers get first recall rights. As of Tuesday, the city administration was reportedly only offering an interview with another principal but no job security guarantees. Herman noted that schools in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods are disproportionately more likely to be deemed “failing” despite the best efforts of teachers and students.
“They make it sound like these are teachers being laid off because they are bad teachers,” she said. “If there is merit pay, why wouldn’t I go to a different school” where students are more likely to score well, she noted. [The administration has backed off plans for merit pay, but merit-based evaluations are still on the table.]
After picketing until 10:30 a.m.—which included a moment of silence for the anniversary of the September 11 attacks—many teachers and supporters from Cooper headed downtown for the second consecutive mass rally outside the Board of Education headquarters. Teachers in red t-shirts streamed toward the board building from all directions, and when union president Karen Lewis appeared on the street a few blocks from the board office, she was surrounded by giddy protesters snapping photos with their cell phones and jostling to hug and congratulate her.
Addressing thousands of teachers and other protesters soon after, she said, “These are their policies, not ours. When these policies failed, who did they blame?” “Us!” the crowd thundered.
Education and Mental Health
Before the afternoon’s rally members of the Mental Health Movement, a grassroots initiative protesting the closing of six public mental health clinics, joined with CTU social workers and teachers outside the mayor’s office in City Hall. They demanded that rather than cutting staff at unionized schools, the administration should hire more counselors and other mental health professionals. According to two school social workers who spoke at the rally, there are only 370 counselors for 400,000 students and most counselors move between multiple schools in the course of a day.
“Social work services take place in old bathrooms, in hallways, in dingy closets,” said David Temkin, a CPS social worker for 14 years. “How would Mayor Emanuel feel if the only therapy he had was held in one of these locations? How would he feel if it was his child?”
He noted that New Trier High School in the wealthy northern suburbs, where Emanuel went to school, employed 15 counselors and social workers for about 3,000 students—a one to 200 ratio compared to CPS’s ratio of about one to 1,000.
Mental Health Movement activist Jesus Campuzano described how school social workers were key to his education and even survival.
“I’m a former CPS special ed student,” he said. “I know the importance of having a social worker by your side. If I didn’t have my social worker, I wouldn’t be here right now. There were times I felt depressed, down, sometimes I even felt like killing myself. If Rahm Emanuel really cared, he would open more mental health clinics in our communities and hire more social workers in the schools. I live in a ‘bad area,’ I don’t deny it. But that’s not going to stop me. The Mental Health Movement supports the social workers and their strike.”
Later Tuesday afternoon, outside the Board of Education, other labor leaders including SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields, AFSCME 31 President Henry Bayer and Western Region-UE Director Carl Rosen pledged their support for striking teachers. Balanoff said SEIU Local 1 gave the two-days notice required for their members—janitors in the public schools, working for private contractors—to refuse to go to work.