In Chicago, a movement is born to reclaim public education

CHICAGO-Asserting a new movement is being born to save public education and stop the corporate takeover of schools, thousands of striking teachers rallied in three locations across Chicago Sept. 12.

Parents, students and community groups, whose pent up outrage at school privatization, dictated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been unleashed by the strike, joined teachers on the picket lines. Some 66% of parents of public school students support the strike.

The rallies highlighted the policy’s devastating impact at the neighborhood level. One took place at Walter H. Dyett High School in Washington Park, a predominantly African American neighborhood on the South Side. Dyett is one of many schools being closed, phased out or privatized.

“Rahm said this strike was unnecessary. They have deemed many actions unnecessary,” said Cristina Richardson, a striking teacher at Morgan Park High School.

“They said a woman’s place was in the home and the suffragettes and feminist movements were unnecessary. They said people of color should just wait and the civil rights movement was unnecessary,” she said.

“Those unnecessary movements have won for women the right to vote and control over their lives. They gave people of color the right to vote and made segregation illegal. It seems to me unnecessary actions bring about necessary change,” she said to cheers.

“We will continue to march,” she said until corporate power “loses its grip on the very soul of public education.”

Community residents and organizations joined forces with the Chicago Teachers Union members to block the closing and privatization of Dyett and other schools. They say the policies have targeted schools in the African American and Latino communities and resulted in the disproportionate layoffs of teachers of color.

 “This is the scene of the crime,” said Jitu Brown, a member of the Local School Council (LSC) and organizer for Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).”

“Dyett was a school where big improvements were being made in test scores and learning. And yet it is now being phased out,” Brown said. “In addition, 14 other schools have been closed and 20 other actions were taken.

“The CPS response was to pull the rug out from under the school. They declared it a failing school. So 34 students filed Title 6 violations under the Civil Rights Act against the Department of Education. Next week we have parents from 19 states rolling to D.C .to see [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan,” Brown said.

Richardson taught at Dyett for 5 years before she was displaced and then rehired at Morgan Park. “I watched it be destabilized from the revolving door of administrators to the sabotage and cutting of successful program.”

Kitesha Reggs, a member of Dyett’s Local School Council, blasted the hypocrisy of the mayor.

“Mayor Emanuel says it’s about the kids. But then they take away the money, close the school, and take away parental rights and teacher rights. We’re not going for that,” she said.

The Chicago Tribune reported Sept. 12 that more than 120 schools are slated for closure next year. It’s expected this will be the next phase of privatizing schools and opening them up as charters. As before, it will result in mass teacher layoffs and is sure to be fought by the CTU and its community allies.

Teachers and communities see winning the right to elect member of the Board of Education as part of that battle. Currently, it is an unelected body appointed by the mayor and seen as a rubber stamp. It’s full of corporate heads and the wealthy. A referendum will be on the ballot in November supporting an elected board.

Strikers marched about two miles to Price Elementary School adjacent to Martin Luther King High School. Price is also being closed after half the school’s student population was diverted to other schools including a charter school.

 “People who do the bidding of corporate America point the finger at you and say you are the problem,” Brown told the striking teachers. “Isn’t that crazy? We’re going to take care of that because community organizations, parents around the city and teachers are united.”

Photo: (PW/John Bachtell)

CORRECTION: In the previous version, Ms. Kitesha Reggs name was misspelled. We regret the error.



John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.