After a disruptive “read-in” from high school students in the historic DuSable building late last week, Chicago Public Schools has agreed to reinstate the beloved librarian it was set to lose as of winter break.
Sara Sayigh told the Sun-Times Thursday that a schoolwide announcement was made late Wednesday afternoon that she’ll be coming back to school in January.
Sayigh was one of the last full-time librarians CPS had at a majority black high school, and she served about 700 students at 4934 S. Wabash — both Bronzeville Scholastic Institute and Daniel Hale Williams Prep high schools.
Her students were outraged and organized protests Friday morning in and around the library. They parked themselves at library tables and on hallway floors and read books for several hours, refusing to go back to class until CPS relented. They kept up pressure on social media using #SaveOurLibrary.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) interceded and met with student protest leaders Monday afternoon.
Sayigh said since that announcement she’s had a hard time getting any work done because students keep coming into the library to hug her and make sure it’s true.
“That was just amazing … the kids … I’ve been here a long time, and one of the advantages of a librarian is you get to know kids when they’re little green freshman, then watch them write essays for college,” she said. “It was really very moving to me that they were willing to take that chance and take action.
“It’s just great to see the kids realized that this is a really important part of their education and they didn’t want it taken away from them.”
“Thanks to a generous anonymous gift, the librarian’s job can be restored at the DuSable campus,” CPS said in a statement. “While we are glad that this will restore a valued position that supports students … we remain concerned that the current financial realities will continue to put our schools in a challenging position as they try to prevent classroom cuts.”
Sayigh’s position was one of 27 cut districtwide after CPS sorted out state and federal money allocated for poor children. Williams Prep actually enrolled fewer low-income students than expected so the school lost some money, district spokesman Michael Passman said. Four other teachers and 22 support staffers also were laid off in other schools, he said.
Sayigh had received a letter dated Dec. 8 from the district indicating she was being let go because the “annual budgetary process requires that we make difficult decisions that impact dedicated CPS employees like you.”
The 13-year veteran also was a trained part of Bronzeville Scholastic Institute’s International Baccalaureate team, charged with guiding students through an annual 4,000-word essay. IB coordinator Kristen Machczynski called Sayigh “such an integral part of this community — she is the glue that holds this place together.”
Williams and Bronzeville Scholastic students kept describing the library on the second floor of the school as a “sanctuary,” a “peaceful place” for students who needed quiet, help with homework, a book recommendation or a hug.
The Chicago Teachers Union has called for librarians in every school, accusing CPS of “dismantling critical library programs.”
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey on Monday said budget cuts to schools have forced principals to choose between librarians and math.
“You’re not tested on library, so librarians get cut,” he said at CTU headquarters. “That’s what we mean when we say there’s a slow simmering crisis in the school.
“So yeah, that’s an outrageous situation in there,” he continued, “but it’s going on in school after school.”
The CTU said only two out of 28 high schools with a student population over 90 percent African-American have a library staffed by a certified librarian. They are Morgan Park High School and Chicago Vocational Career Academy.
Of 46 high schools with a majority African-American student population, only 15 percent have librarians. Districtwide, 32 percent of high schools have a librarian.
CPS has said that adding back 265 librarians to the system would cost $26.5 million a year.
Civil rights icon and DuSable alumnus Timuel Black said removing the librarian “would be not only an insult to the history of the school and the library, but a disadvantage to the community which has access to the library, and certainly to those of us who have spent many years in the library even after graduation for information that would not be available anywhere else.”