Parents, students gather for protests outside CPS schools

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Students, teachers and parents at Burroughs Elementary School, 3542 S. Washtenaw Ave., protest over school funding on Wednesday morning outside their school. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Chicago Public School parents rallied outside schools Wednesday morning — after trying in vain to walk in — to lodge their opposition to planned school funding cuts that could lead to layoffs at the end of the month.

One Southwest Side principal addressed more than 100 parents and kids who’d assembled on his school’s playground before school started.

“Politicians are defunding neighborhood schools. . . the heart and soul of the community,” said Burroughs Principal Rich Morris. “If our school went down because we did not have the funds or were not given the funds, then our neighborhood would go down. That’s why we’re out here in the freezing cold.”

Andrea Sanchez, one of his eighth-graders, added that “I am tired of having to worry about what programs or activities they are going to cut next at my school.”

The citywide protests at about 200 schools were part of a national “walk-in” campaign to draw attention to school underfunding, and were coordinated locally by the Chicago Teachers Union, which still doesn’t have a contract to replace the one that expired last June.

Supporters intended to “walk in” to schools with signs, but were mostly rebuffed.

CPS had sent a letter home to parents and staff Tuesday saying that principals are not to let any strangers inside buildings and promising that safety protocols were in place.

“Our priority tomorrow will be to keep students safe and make sure their learning is not disrupted,” CEO Forrest Claypool wrote.

Those instructions told principals to report “possible protesters, locations, dates and times” as well as any media outlets to central office and to maintain a list of participants during any meetings or question-and-answer sessions.

CTU vice president — and CPS parent — Jesse Sharkey called the district’s portrayal of the rallies as “acts of civil disobedience” as “weird.”

He said the event outside Agassiz Elementary School was “basically, you know, coffee and donuts, smiles, and parents chatting with parents, and lots of kids running around, and some community supporters and about a dozen signs.”

“I promise that students, community folks and parents aren’t as much a danger or a threat to security as Springfield, as no budget,” Sharkey continued, referring on the day the governor proposed his second-year budget, to the lack of any spending plan for his first.

CPS recently borrowed $725 million in high-interest bonds to cover operations for the remainder of the year while awaiting pension help from Springfield. Still, the district told its principals to hand in amended budgets Tuesday to reflect midyear cuts estimated to save about $35 million through June. Cuts to charter schools account for about $7.5 million of that.

The district has threatened layoffs by Feb. 29 if the district fails to reach a contract with the CTU. But the union denies that cuts are necessary, saying that CPS has the cash to finish the school year — and that the most recent contract proposal wouldn’t save the district any money this year anyway.

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Students, teachers and parents at Burroughs Elementary School, 3542 S. Washtenaw Ave., protest over school funding. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

The event at Burroughs Elementary School, 3542 S. Washtenaw Ave., was one of many planned across the city on Wednesday. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

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