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Angry teachers challenge Rauner to ‘read-off’ after email flap

Arathi Jayaram, a CPS kindergarten teacher, reads aloud at a press conference with Gov. Bruce Rauner at the Thompson Center Friday. Several Chicago Teachers Union members showed up at the press conference after emails released yesterday showed Rauner had referred to half of CPS teachers as "virtually illiterate." | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Teachers crashed a news conference to challenge Gov. Bruce Rauner to a “read-off” the day after a 2011 email was released in which he slammed Chicago Public Schools teachers, saying half of them are “virtually illiterate.”

Holding books about education and civil rights, CPS teachers stood up one by one to deliver commentary about Rauner’s leadership and address the governor’s comments, in which he also called half the school system’s principals “managerially incompetent.”

CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter called the governor’s statements “inflammatory” and “Trump-like.”

“Governor Rauner, we are teachers and we are not illiterate,” Potter said during the confrontation. “We are going to read you a few examples of the ways in which you burned education, destroyed this great state.”

The demonstrators attacked Rauner’s position in the top 1 percent, his support of Charter school expansion and his spending on public services, referring to information from a document called “The People’s Agenda.”

After the handful of teachers were escorted out, Rauner said he regrets what he wrote in that email.

“The remark I made in that email five years ago was both inaccurate and intemperate, and I apologize,” Rauner told the press.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday apologized for comments he made in a 2011 email about Chicago Public School teachers and principals. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday apologized for comments he made in a 2011 email about Chicago Public School teachers and principals. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

City Hall released the emails containing the remarks, which Rauner sent when he was an active leader of education reform prior to being elected governor, because of a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Chicago Tribune more than a year ago.

Rauner’s apology fell flat with teachers, who gathered in a lobby after the demonstrators were ushered out of the press conference.

They spoke about their frustrations with the governor’s comments in the released emails and what they said to be his poor treatment of the school district.

“It’s quite offensive that the governor would make such a drastic comment about nearly half the teachers, especially because of the relationship he already has with the Chicago teachers,” said Kimberly Gaines, a reader and language arts teacher at William Penn Elementary School.

About a dozen Chicago Public Schools teachers sat outside Gov. Bruce Rauner’s press conference Friday and read books in response to released emails in which the governor said half of CPS teachers are “virtually illiterate.” | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times
About a dozen Chicago Public Schools teachers sat outside Gov. Bruce Rauner’s press conference Friday and read books in response to released emails in which the governor said half of CPS teachers are “virtually illiterate.” | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Gaines said she won’t accept Rauner’s apology for the comments until he takes more action to support the schools. She said the governor’s recent comparison of CPS to “crumbling prisons” in June and refusal to provide the broke district with what he called a “bailout” in the state’s budget show his attitude hasn’t changed since he sent the contentious remarks in 2011.

“People don’t change overnight and nothing he’s said on the news or in meetings has negated the ideas that he spoke in those emails, so everything is pretty consistent,” she said. “I would like to see Rauner be a little bit more introspective and think about the things he’s saying and how those things hurt people.”

Arathi Jayaram, a kindergarten teacher at Schubert Elementary, said she was “angry and disappointed” with Rauner after reading the emails.

“I don’t know how someone could call me illiterate when I have a master’s degree and I’m teaching our young students of Illinois how to read,” Jayaram said. “He clearly has never been inside a CPS school, and if he has, he refuses to see what’s actually happening inside and the amount of learning and teaching that’s going on.”

Chicago Public Schools teachers staged a “read-in” after being escorted out a Gov. Bruce Rauner press conference for challenging his remarks in a 2011 email that was recently released in which he said half of CPS teachers are “virtually illiterate.” | Jac
Chicago Public Schools teachers staged a “read-in” after being escorted out a Gov. Bruce Rauner press conference for challenging his remarks in a 2011 email that was recently released in which he said half of CPS teachers are “virtually illiterate.” | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

At the press conference at the Thompson Center, the governor signed two bills, one that requires school districts to report data on standardized testing and another that provides incentives for teachers to seek additional training.

The mandate for standardized testing reports is a response to concerns about “over-testing” in schools and a policy aimed at increasing transparency, Rauner said.

The other bill he signed rewards educators who acquire more professional development training than required by allowing those extra hours to go toward the next professional educator license renewal cycle.

“We have many wonderful teachers in Illinois,” Rauner said at the conference. “They should be recognized, they should be acknowledged, they should be encouraged, but we need to make sure that … we have good teachers in every classroom.”

A worker at the Thompson Center approached the Chicago teachers who were silently reading in the lobby and asked them to “keep it down” for employees in the nearby Comptroller’s office. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times
A worker at the Thompson Center approached the Chicago teachers who were silently reading in the lobby and asked them to “keep it down” for employees in the nearby Comptroller’s office. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

“No student should be trapped, should be locked in a failing school,” he said, explaining his intention to redo the “unequal” state funding formula. “I believe that very passionately. That’s why I’ve been a big funder of charter schools and other competitive choice schools so parents can have options regardless of their income.”

As the press conference went on, teachers sat on couches in the lobby to silently read their books. Some were taking photos of the sit-in when a state employee approached and asked them to “keep it down” so people working in the nearby comptroller’s office were not disrupted.

The teachers, bemused, agreed. They continued reading until Rauner’s conference ended.

Word of Rauner’s email had sparked outrage among teachers and kicked off a running commentary on Twitter under the hashtag #teachersread.

A sampling: