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Staff at Bronzeville charter school fear possible closure

Youth Connection Leadership Academy is looking for a new home, but the teachers union is worried the school might close instead, leaving students in the lurch. “This is their second home, and for some of them, it’s their first home,” a staff member said.

Around 20 educators from area schools and Chicago Teachers Union members picket Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, outside Youth Connection Leadership Academy demanding that the school not be closed,
Around 20 educators from area schools and Chicago Teachers Union members picket Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, outside Youth Connection Leadership Academy demanding that the school not be closed,
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Teachers and staff at Youth Connection Leadership Academy, an alternative high school in Bronzeville, fear their school could be closed.

They said the charter operator that runs the school, Youth Connection Charter School, is seeking a new home for the school, which is currently located at 3424 S. State St. The union believes if management can’t find one, the school will be shuttered.

A decision on the matter has not been made but is supposed to be announced this month, said Chris Baehrend, the chair of the Chicago Teachers Union’s charter division.

The union doubts the sincerity of the effort Youth Connection Charter School is putting into trying to find a new home for the school. They believe it’s a poorly disguised attempt to close the school and do away with the union that formed there in 2012.

“It just doesn’t stand up to reason,” Baehrend said of the charter operator having trouble finding a new building to house the school. “It’s union busting.”

Officials with the charter school operator did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Chicago Public Schools officials confirmed the school is attempting a move but did not provide further information.

At a rally earlier this week, staff said the school provides a refuge for its 84 students, many of whom are experiencing homelessness or live in unstable homes.

“This is their second home, and for some of them, it’s their first home,” said Brittany Wysinger, an academic adviser.

“They come here as a sanctuary, come for resources,” she said. “We help with basic necessities such as deodorant or body wash.”

Indalia Berner, who teaches at the school and is one of nine union members there, said the school offers continuity and comfort in the lives of students who face daily turmoil.

“Our students need us. They need our school. Many of our students deal with trauma on a daily basis, whether that’s being shot themselves or seeing their best friend die in front of their face,” she said.

The Bronzeville school is the only one of the three alternative schools that Youth Connection Charter School directly runs that has a unionized staff.

The charter group outsources management of 16 other alternative schools in Chicago, and staff at five of those schools have unionized.

Contributing: Nader Issa