CPS students rally against ‘racist and discriminatory’ layoffs

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A small group of Chicago Public Schools students gathered in front of the Thompson Center on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, to protest the firings of CPS teachers and staff. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools students protested Monday the “racist and discriminatory” firing of district teachers and staff, which they said disproportionately affect low-income schools.

At a rally held outside the Thompson Center, about a dozen young protesters called for quality education and funding to be provided in all schools. The district fired 508 teachers and 521 support staff earlier this month.

Sabah Hussain and George Vassilatos, the rally organizers from the Chicago Student Union group, criticized the district’s cuts for contributing to “systematic oppression.”

Hussain, a senior at Lane Tech, said CPS “targets marginalized communities” and “justifies perpetuating the cycle of poverty under the guise of lack of resources.” The 17-year-old urged the district to find alternatives to layoffs for reducing the district’s $1.1 billion deficit, such as re-allocating surplus money in tax increment financing funds; taxing corporations on LaSalle Street; and cooperating with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Vassilatos, a senior at Whitney Young, reiterated a list of demands for the city and CPS, including a moratorium on charter expansion, an end to “racist and neighborhood-based budget cuts,” and an elected board of education.

“Education is the strongest tool against systematic oppression and systematic disenfranchisement of our communities, yet Rahm Emanuel and Forrest Claypool continue to close schools, fire teachers and refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue with CTU and the people of Chicago,” said 17-year-old Vassilatos.

Chicago Public Schools students concluded the rally by chanting, “People over profits” and “They say cut back, we say fight back.” | Lou Foglia/ Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools students concluded the rally by chanting, “People over profits” and “They say cut back, we say fight back.” | Lou Foglia/ Sun-Times

August Greenberg, who also attends Whitney Young, said after the rally that his selective enrollment school hasn’t had more than a couple of layoffs but all students should feel more of an obligation to fight for equal funding.

“The schools that are affected the most are the low-income schools, the schools on the South and West Sides. The students in those schools don’t have other places to go,” said the 16-year-old. “I do feel cuts in my school, but not the way that those people do, and those are the people I’m fighting for.”

CPS has said the majority of those teachers and staff laid off would be rehired in different positions and can reapply to fill the roughly 1,000 existing teaching vacancies. The district held two job fairs last week and will hold a third this week.

Natalie Almanza, a 17-year-old Whitney Young student, said that reassurance from the district doesn’t keep both students and teachers from feeling “on edge.”

“It’s just frustrating to hear that from them. Every teacher at our school is valued,” said Almanza. “You never want someone that you respect so much to ever lose their job.”

CPS spokesperson Emily Bittner issued a statement in response to the rally.

“CPS teachers do extraordinary work, and they deserve the most generous contract that we can provide in challenging economic times. To do this, we’ve offered teachers a net raise of more than 6 percent over the life of the contract, along with increasing taxes on Chicago taxpayers by $250 million to fund teachers pensions and cutting hundreds of administrative jobs,” Bittner said.

Student demonstrators expressed support for the teachers union. Last week, CTU President Karen Lewis said she opposes the proposal, which also involves phasing out the 7 percent pension contribution the district has been making.

“Education really is the key to changing and transforming communities,” said Hussain of the Chicago Student Union. “Until we empower and give tools [to] and mobilize the disadvantaged students that are coming from really tough neighbors and we really provide them with an equitable education, we wont see a … change in Chicago.”

Contributing: Natalie Watts

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