Opinion

The Call for Solidarity with Chicago’s Public Employees

Mary ChappellAt the picket line, protestors held signs calling for CPS and Mayor Lightfoot to keep their promises on providing schools with the necessary resources.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) represents more than 25,000 Chicago public school teachers and paraprofessionals, who are on strike over failed contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This would be the second strike by CTU since 2012, and the first one under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. As students of Loyola University Chicago, a private Jesuit institution, it’s important to delve into the reasons why a public school strike demands our attention and action.

This is the third work stoppage since the Union led a seven-day strike in 2012 and a one-day walk-out in 2016, which is characterized as a “Day of Action.” As the strike nears a week since the Union’s House of Delegates voted to reject the latest offer by CPS and Lightfoot, it’s impossible not to see the more than 25,000 public employees on the picket lines.

Loyola’s mission encourages students to stand in solidarity with those championing social justice initiatives.

“Jesuit education strives to seek the truth and to form each student into a whole person of solidarity who will take responsibility for the real world,” the mission states. “Our students must have an educated awareness of society and culture, a sense of being interrelated and interconnected, and a commitment to act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.”

With attending a school in a world-class city like Chicago, it’s imperative we check our privilege and understand what it means to be a part of the larger Chicago community, a community that stands together through its successes and struggles.

While Loyola offers ample resources to its students, this is not the norm for public schools across the city. While the argument can be made that Loyola’s tuition affords for resources like fully staffed libraries, computer labs and special education positions, it’s crucial to maintain humility and belief in education as a human right. Chicago’s fight for social equity requires an understanding of how our personal actions and opportunities should be used to uplift those forgotten by social inequity.

Loyola students will encounter these social inequities as they explore Chicago’s various neighborhoods. These areas inspire and drive the city’s cultural identity, which exemplifies the varying socioeconomic backgrounds from across the city.

Whether that’s visiting murals in Pilsen, having weekend dim-sum in Chinatown or walking the historic streets of Bronzeville, we need to fight for the preservation of these communities. They’ve continuously seen divestment from their public schools as they were burdened by the closing of 50 schools in 2012, according to Chicago Reporter.

The residents of these communities deserve quality public schools that include wrap-around services. Such services include a nurse and social worker in every school to deal with Chicago’s widespread gun violence or other familial troubles at home that leaves students with emotional and mental trauma.

CPS has fewer than 300 nurses to service more than 500 schools in the district, WBEZ Chicago reported. Galileo Scholastic Academy of Math and Science, an elementary school on the city’s Near West Side, is a school where a majority of the students receive free or reduced lunch. Galileo has one nurse who comes in once a week and is responsible for more than 500 students belonging to the school’s community, according to Conception Moreno, Galileo’s local school council teacher representative.

“While the school district’s current offer proposes spending $2-million over the next five years to hire additional nurses, schools like Galileo will remain at status quo in undeserving the increasing medical and social needs of its students,” Moreno said on the picket line Thursday.

Students deserve a classroom where class sizes are capped so they’re not competing for staff instruction against at least 30 classmates. Capping class sizes can allow them to properly receive the skills necessary to successfully take standardized exams. School nurses, social workers and class size are just a few of the demands the CTU wants put in its contract.

These are all issues Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on and promised the 371,863 Chicagoans who voted for her in the 2019 mayoral runoff election. She ran as a progressive candidate with a campaign centered around a culture change in Chicago which supported redistributing wealth, resources and opportunities across all communities in the city. It’s time Lightfoot is held to her promises to provide a fully resourced education to all CPS students.

With six public elementary and high schools neighboring both Loyola’s Lake Shore and Water Tower Campuses, I implore you to partake in this fight.

This starts with Loyola students visiting public schools to listen to and talk with teachers on the picket lines. This will help students gain an understanding of the issues front-line staff — teachers, aides, paraprofessionals — see as hurdles to providing a quality education to their students.

We must then hold our elected officials accountable, which involves calling our local alderperson to release tax increment funding — funds

Matthew MataMore than 25,000 employees marched on Chicago streets, schools and CPS headquarters

the city sets aside from property taxes to promote investment in neighborhoods — for schools. If elected officials ignore our calls, we must recognize our duties as citizens and vote.

While some of us may only be Chicago residents for four years, Chicago is still home and it deserves our support in the fight for quality public education. Being apart of “clicktivism” culture, where students often believe retweeting or reposting is meaningful discourse, the social change needed demands our presence in the streets. 

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