Parents, students, community leaders keep heat on Lightfoot as strike deadline nears
Young and old activists held a news conference outside the mayor’s office demanding that Lightfoot to put in writing the ‘enforceable caps on class size’ and additional support staff she has promised at the bargaining table.
Parents, students and community leaders vowed Tuesday to join Chicago Public Schools teachers on the picket line this week if Mayor Lori Lightfoot refuses to deliver the “educational equity” she promised as a candidate for mayor.
Young and old activists held a news conference outside the mayor’s office demanding that Lightfoot to put in writing the “enforceable caps on class size” and additional support staff she has promised at the bargaining table.
Catherine Henchek said when her son started kindergarten at CPS, she was told they “couldn’t give him his medication every day because there was only a nurse once a week.”
Similar shortages remain.
“They have a secretary having to give kids insulin shots because the nurse only comes in once a week,” said Henchek of Parents 4 Teachers.
“Parents don’t want a strike. They want their children in school. But, we want fully–funded schools. We want fully-staffed classrooms. We want enforceable class-size limits. So, we support this strike. Mayor Lightfoot, you campaigned on a lot of these issues. You need to put those campaign promises in writing,” Henchek said.
Jennifer Nava, a youth organizer for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and a senior at Kelly High School, said she “shouldn’t have to stand up here and demand a nurse or librarian” for her school or “battle with my peers for teachers’ assistants because there’s too many of us in a room clearly not meant for 30 students and an outmatched teacher.”
“I’ve been advocating for true investment in CPS since I was 12. I’m now 18 and still fighting. But I’m tired of begging and crying. I do not do desperate pleas or sorrow. I get angry,” she said.
Nava said there’s a difference between “wanting to strike” and being “willing to strike.” She thanked every one teacher who participated in the 94% strike vote for doing “whatever it takes to get what we deserve.”
“We’re in this fight together. We are no longer settling for CPS to feed us the crumbs that they want,” she said.
“I know it hurts teachers having to strike. It means having to lose their precious time in class with their students. But if it comes down to that, we, as students, understand. And we’ll be right beside all of you on that picket line.”
Ariel Atkins of Black Lives Matter Chicago said the fight over nurses, social workers, librarians and class size is a “racial justice struggle as well as a labor struggle.”
That’s because nearly 90% of CPS students are black and Latinx, 76 percent are low-income and 18,000 are homeless or “housing insecure.”
“They don’t have counselors and social workers needed to support them through the trauma they suffer every day growing up in communities that the city has totally divested from,” Atkins said.
“Black and brown children are being failed. When we send our kids to school, they’re met with police at the door and then are expected to learn with police marching up and down the halls like a prison.”
The purpose of the rally was to deliver a letter to Lightfoot demanding that she honor her campaign promise to fully fund schools with support personnel and urge parents to call the mayor’s office to keep the heat on.
When protesters were refused the right to hand-deliver that letter, Lucas Tobin-Trumm, a fourth-grader at Ravenswood Elementary, folded it into a paper airplane and “air-mailed” it towards the glass door.
“If we don’t get it, shut it down,” the precocious 9-year-old said.
Jim Smith, chief of Lightfoot’s bodyguard detail, opened the door and picked up the letter as protesters cheered.