Protesters stage 'walk-in' at 200 CPS campuses

Jessica D'Onofrio Image
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Protesters stage 'walk-in' at 200 CPS campuses
Protesters walked into nearly 200 Chicago Public Schools Wednesday morning as part of a national day of action

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Protesters walked into nearly 200 Chicago Public Schools Wednesday as part of a national day of action in defense of schools. The Chicago Teachers Union organized the demonstration.

The union said the "walk-ins" are in protest of CPS and what they call the district's failure to address the needs of teachers and students.

Teachers, parents, students and community members gathered outside each school about 30 minutes before classes began and marched in as a group. CPS sent a letter home to parents and staff Tuesday saying principals are not to let strangers into the buildings.

The union and the district have recently been involved in tense contract negotiations.

"Our schools are being starved of funds. They're threatening layoffs in the middle of the school year - pay cuts in the middle of the school year. We're trying to gather everyone who loves public schools to come into our buildings," said Jesse Sharkey, CTU vice president.

CPS has threatened layoffs by the end of the month as it moves to save $35 million. Teachers have threatened to strike. They believe the district, which is in financial crisis, has the means to find money and has enough cash to finish the school year.

CTU officials said contract negotiations have been rough. They said if a strike becomes necessary, union members have the ability to walk out.

At Agassiz Elementary School in Lakeview, it was a peaceful gathering - a relaxed rally to support teachers with coffee and donuts on the North Side.

"The purpose is to draw attention to the fact that these cuts will devastate our schools. We need to defend our schools. We're not the problem, the problem is people who won't pass a budget, who won't fund public education," Sharkey said.

Just before the bell rang the group walked into the school, a symbolic opposed to a walk out.

"The teachers, when they're trying to negotiate a fair contract, they're actually negotiating for our kids and their education, so we need to stand up for teachers," said parent Chirag Mehta.

"I think we have to realize that collectively we're stronger together and that our teachers working conditions are our kids' learning conditions," said parent Rebecca Burwell.

"We're back at the table today and we're gonna keep talking. We will always keep talking and working at the table but the issues that are difficult have to do with whether or not the school system has a future and it won't if they won't fund it," said Sharkey.

CPS released a statement saying they also want equal funding for schools, "so that we can protect classrooms, prevent additional painful cuts and continue the remarkable academic progress our students are making. As we face a $1.1 billion deficit next year, we will continue to bargain in good faith with the CTU to reach a final, fair contract agreement and work to secure equal funding for Chicago students from the state."

Parents and some students joined teachers at a Northwest Side high school at the end of the day to demonstrate against CPS funding cuts.

"Our schools are very important to our communities and that is the message," said Kinga Baut.

"Right now a lot of our after-school programs are being cut," said Evelyn Solis, Kelly High School student.

"We've had a lot of challenges in our schools," said Deborah Campbell, Locke Elementary School teacher. "We don't have a playground for kids to play on."