School unions rally in Hyde Park on Day 3 of strike

Striking teachers and support staff from Ray Elementary, Hyde Park High, Bret Harte Elementary, Shoesmith Elementary, Kenwood Academy High and Murray Elementary Schools march east on East 54th Place, making their way through Hyde Park to Kenwood Academy High School on Monday morning. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff writer

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and SEIU Local 73 members from schools throughout Hyde Park marched throughout the neighborhood and held a rally at Kenwood High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., on the third full day of their strike.

On a rainy Monday morning, teachers and support staff from Bret Harte Elementary, Dyett High School, Kenwood Academy High School, Hyde Park Academy High School, Murray Language Academy, Ray School and Shoesmith Elementary all joined in a “Hyde Park ‘Nurse in Every School’ Solidarity March for Justice.”

CTU and SEIU Local 73 members were supported by the National Nurses United/UChicago Medical Center, Graduate Students United and University of Chicago Labor Council members. Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) joined the rally at Ray School and then marched with teachers along 57th Street before heading to another event.

Once the crowd gathered at Kenwood High School, there was a sea of red and purple as hundreds of teachers, special education classroom assistants, librarians, parents and other union workers from the neighborhood gathered together to hear testimony from teachers about issues in their classrooms and how it affects their students’ education.

Charity Freeman, a computer science teacher at Kenwood Academy, spoke at the rally. Freeman mentioned that she recently won an equity fellowship from Computer Science Teacher Association, “That’s cool, but it doesn’t make a difference if I’m teaching computer science classes that don’t have enough computers for my students. It doesn’t make a difference if when my students are struggling, they don’t have a social worker to go to. It doesn’t make a difference if we got 444 students to every school counselor. It doesn’t make a difference if we can only send our students to the nurse’s office on certain days of the week.”

Freeman continued, “If I’m fighting for equity, I’m doing it here. This is where the fight matters. This is where we have to do the work.”

Ray School’s counselor, Samantha Nieto, spoke about her difficulty with meeting the needs of hundreds of students in her caseload at Ray. “I have 700 students on my caseload, there is no way that I can meet with all of those students. I also get pulled to substitute which is not okay. If I’m substituting in a kindergarten classroom and a student has a crisis where do they go? We only have our social worker three days a week. That’s not okay.”

Nieto also told the crowd that the school’s librarian position was cut, and her office now is located in the library.

Linda Sue Collins, a former librarian at Ray School who currently is a 6th Grade teacher there, has seen librarian positions cut throughout the district and has experienced it herself.

“I have survived three librarian position cuts since 2012. In just seven years, three times, my job was on the chopping block. The first time, I was able to recover leaving Keller gifted center and finding a wonderful full-time position at Ray Elementary School. The second chopping block, the school had to decide between keeping the computer science teacher or the school librarian. Bittersweet. I survived that cut. Cut number three, this year, I come back and find that the librarian position has been cut once again,” said Collins.

Collins said to the crowd, “For the past several years, all of my librarian colleagues, we are in fear all the time and uncertainty, insecurity not knowing if the library position will exist or not. Isn’t it ridiculous at 500 plus schools that there are less than 140 functioning libraries? All of these facilities are being closed down, not being used for what they are intended.”

After the rally, teachers and support staff went back to their schools and prepared for a large rally at Union Park,1501 W. Randolph St., at 2 p.m.

Recently, CTU won a number of concessions from the school board, among them were staff positions to support students in temporary living situations, a ratio of 1 adult for every 10 students in a Pre-K classroom, guaranteed naps for preschoolers in all-day pre-K programs and counselors will not be pulled from counseling to take on other duties.

While the union sees these gains as positive, there is no indication when the strike will end. Negotiations are continuing.

SEIU Local 73 will have a meeting with City Hall at 3 p.m. today. Their last bargaining day was Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Marc Monaghan, Herald photographer, contributed to this story.

s.smylie@hpherald.com