By Morgan Gilbard
Cynthia Sandoval dreams of being the kind of teacher she had in elementary school, the kind of teacher who helped her learn English when she began second grade. Sandoval, now a sophomore at Benito Juarez Community Academy, is concerned about her teachers facing possible lay-offs as Chicago Public Schools tries to solve its massive budget problems.
Sandoval, holding a picket sign, stood outside the Thompson Center in the Loop with approximately 60 of her peers last week before they all marched past City Hall, CPS headquarters on Clark Street, Board of Education President Frank Clark’s home, and finally Juarez Academy in Pilsen. At Juarez, other students walked out of classes to join the protest.
Most of the students don’t have solutions to the challenges officials face in erasing the $480 million deficit. They just want to keep their teachers in school.
The march’s end at Benito Juarez was symbolic, since many of the students call the school home and they face losing more of their favorite instructors because of the district’s ongoing lack of funding. Several Juarez teachers already received pink slips earlier in the school year.
“It’s upsetting because they’re amazing teachers and they’ve taught a lot to their students,” explained protest organizer Sherelyn Garduno, a senior at Juarez. “Students really do miss them. They had a good relationship with them. That’s what helps create a nice learning environment at Juarez.”
Negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS continued this week. Meanwhile, in Springfield, Republicans introduced a bill that would allow for a state takeover of CPS, something Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposes.
“Rahm and his buddies huddle up in City Hall, shutting down schools until there is not even one left,” said Adam Gottlieb, an arts program instructor, to the crowd.
Students said that some teachers encouraged them to protest last week, despite normal school hours.
“CPS students deserve nothing less than fairness from Springfield because it’s their future at stake – so we’re glad to see them joining the fight for equity,” said spokesperson Emily Bittner. “However, no one should encourage students to leave their classrooms during the school day, and any CPS employee who promotes student absenteeism will be disciplined accordingly.”
While the protesters were mostly students, one teacher did attend. “We’re just talking about the general erosion of any meaningful education being offered to working-class people,” said Adam Gottlieb, an art and writing teacher for several private programs that work with public schools. Gottlieb performed a spoken-word poem at the rally before the march.
Many of the students attribute the district’s problems directly to Mayor Emanuel and his education policies. Nidalis Burgos, a senior at Lincoln Park High School and a protest organizer, is in favor of the mayor resigning. She says many of her friends feel the same way.
“I think it’s powerful coming from students because it’s different when the voters are telling him to step down,” Burgos said. “But to see that the future of Chicago is telling him to step down, the future of Chicago is telling him that we’re fed up…It’s time for him to take us into account and give us back what’s rightfully ours: our education.”