Dear Madame Secretary,
I am writing to you today from Chicago on behalf of all the children, families and staff in the middle of a massive manufactured crisis brewing in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). A crisis in major part worsened by your friend, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
I am a special education teacher at an elementary school on the far South Side of the city in a high-poverty African-American community. Thanks to Rahm Emanuel’s increased attacks on neighborhood public schools like ours, we are living under truly abhorrent conditions for teachers and students alike. My school is a survivor of his vicious, racist school closings from 2013. The school down the street was forced into ours, creating chaos and disruption for all involved. We have been beaten down by at least five separate rounds of budget cuts over the past two years, with yet another round of cuts on the way. The cuts to teaching positions have caused large class sizes (41 kindergartners in one classroom!) and split classrooms (more than one grade in a class). Then there are the lay-offs of other vital staff members. We no longer have a librarian. We lost a much-needed clerk. We lost our climate and culture coordinator and our mentoring program. CPS even has stolen our social worker and psychologist for all but a day or two a week, despite the high number of children who have experienced trauma and need therapeutic services.
And we are indeed experiencing trauma. We are a school located in the middle of a neighborhood facing massive spikes in violence, thanks to Rahm’s racist policies causing a lack of housing, jobs and opportunity. Just yesterday, I sat huddled in my classroom, protecting my students during a lockdown as violence swirled around us, leaving a man dead on our streets just down the block and two others injured. As I comforted my students, crying and scared in the dark, the obscenity of Rahm’s call for teachers to sacrifice more tore through my thoughts. Children at my school are in mental health crisis. Yet Rahm and his unelected school board have cut the very healing services we need now more than ever. As teachers, how can we allow these horrid conditions to stand?
Not only has Rahm gone after neighborhood schools, particularly in Black communities, but now he and CPS are coming after our most vulnerable population: students with special needs. CPS has changed funding formulas and procedures to access vital special education services in an attempt to save money for their crisis off the backs of our most fragile learners. We have seen harmful disruption in special ed services, with massive lawsuits brewing. Teachers are being laid off, support personnel are being lost, busing and transportation is being cut, and CPS has created a mountain of bureaucracy designed to prevent access to services. We are at criminal levels of harm to students.
Would you allow your granddaughter to attend a school suffering these types of assaults?
You say, “Black Lives Matter.” Well, now is the time for you to show that the Black Lives of children, children with disabilities, children living in poverty here in Chicago … that those lives matter to you. That the lives of Black educators who are being laid off or pushed out of teaching in droves matter to you.
You say to teachers, “I’m with you.” I heard you speak at the AFT National Conference this summer, where you promised us that you are on our side. Well, in Chicago we are under attack, an attack led by your party’s out-of-favor embarrassment, Rahm Emanuel. As the chosen candidate of the Democratic Party, we ask that you intervene directly. If you ask teachers to say, “I’m with her” then you need to show us that you truly are with us in our time of dire need.
Teachers in Chicago are on the eve of the second teachers’ strike in four years. Members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike because we see the unacceptable reality of underfunded, sabotaged schools every day. We are willing to stand up and fight for the schools our students deserve. While we deserve fair compensation and should not shoulder the burden of the elite’s created fiscal crises, this strike is about so much more than our pay.
Secretary Clinton, I invite you to come walk the picket line at my school should we go out on strike beginning on October 11th. Show us which side you are on. The wealthy bankers that profit off of Rahm Emanuel’s privatization schemes or the families and teachers of Chicago?
It’s time for you step up and show what kind of president you will be.