Paralyzed clerk, supporters call on CPS to allow her to keep working at Southwest Side school

Judy Mahoney wants to work at Byrne Elementary until she retires. CPS Thursday offered her another one-year contract.

SHARE Paralyzed clerk, supporters call on CPS to allow her to keep working at Southwest Side school

Judy Mahoney outside Byrne Elementary Tuesday

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Judy Mahoney’s life changed forever four years ago when a car crash with a drunken driver left her paralyzed from the waist down.

One thing that didn’t change was her ability to work as a school clerk, functioning as the glue that keeps a school running smoothly by helping with everything from keeping tabs on attendance to answering phones and greeting parents.

Whittier Elementary in Pilsen, where she’d worked for more than two decades, was not wheelchair accessible. So she was hired at Byrne Elementary in Garfield Ridge on the Southwest Side, where she’s been for past three years.

Funding for the position was temporary and was set to expire in June, leaving Mahoney without a job.

Mahoney, 49, had been told she can apply for a job at a schools operated by Chicago Public Schools.

On Tuesday, Mahoney gathered with Byrne parents and other supporters, including fellow members of the Chicago Teachers Union, to urge CPS leadership to allow her to stay at Byrne permanently.

“I want to tell CPS to please do the right thing,” Mahoney said. “I’ve been begging for this year after year after year in silence. I didn’t want this to get to this point, but it is my life at stake, my livelihood. I had no way out. I’m exhausted, I’m drained .... This was my last resort.” 

Shortly before noon Tuesday, CPS spokesman James Gherardi said in an emailed statement that CPS leadership was committed to working with Mahoney “to find a new position at another school that meets her needs.”

About four hours later, Gherardi sent another email that showed CPS leadership had changed course.

“District officials reassured Ms. Mahoney today that her position at Byrne will be extended through next school year if the available roles we have identified at other accessible schools do not work out,” Gherardi said.

“Chicago Public Schools is committed to ensuring that employees who require accommodations have access to the work environments they need to perform their duties,” Gherardi said.

Mahoney was glad CPS assured her she’d have a job next year, but she was disappointed it was not a permanent offer.

She’s considering what to do next.

“It’s a welcome decision but it’s not enough,” she said.

“I’m back to square one. Another temporary position. It doesn’t solve the problem, it puts a Band-Aid on it.”

Members of the Byrne school community on Tuesday expressed support for Mahoney.

“Judy’s dedication is truly inspirational to all. She is a living, breathing, interactive lesson of positivity for all of our students,” said Samantha Soukal, a teacher at Byrne.

Sarah Sachen, a Byrne parent, said the school is “so grateful and lucky to have her” and cutting her position would be “a huge mistake.”

Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) also expressed her support.

“There is absolutely no justification in the world that would explain the complete and utter disregard and lack of empathy shown by CPS to Judy. ... It is greatly concerning to me that the people who made the decision to treat Judy this way are also the same people who are making decisions on behalf of the children of the city of Chicago.”

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