Brizard's appointed principal tries to bar public from a public meeting... Protests continue against tyranny at Social Justice High School as the community, teachers and students continue traditions of the school born from hunger strike
The start to this new school year was turbulent for Social Justice High School, one of the schools inside Little Village High School on Chicago's Southwest Side. School was supposed to begin with the other "Track E" schools on August 13, but the Board of Education created controversy that continues and resulted in a mass meeting on August 23 at which the "Network Chief" failed to appear to explain CPS actions, the principal appointed against the vote of the community threatened teachers and students (and then walked out of the meeting), and a high school that was built after a community mobilization (and hunger strike during the years of the Vallas administration) continued to be a school of activism and democracy.
It all began in early August, when CPS officials removed the principal chosen by the Local School Council and imposed a new principal. Protests, including a sit-in and occupation of the building, erupted.
In addition to this slap in the face to the community, parents, teachers and students, the new principal continued the CPS strategy of imposing destructive changes by cutting three advanced placement classes. Instead of encouraging Advanced Placement classes, the newly installed principal cut them, eliminating teachers. More protests ensued. The students, in an uproar, mobilized an occupation of the school with a sit-in to demand that the principal reverse these changes. The chief of the Westside High School "Network" agreed to return the AP classes — but only brought back one AP class, according to the students and teachers at the school.
Due to these unfulfilled promises by CPS, the parents demanded a meeting with the "network." The meeting was scheduled for August 23, 2012. The day before the meeting, the principal announced that all staff, students and community members would be denied access to the meeting.
In protest of this attempt to thwart democracy, all those that were denied access protested in front of the school — until they were allowed in.
The room quickly filled with 200 community members, parents, students, and staff. The principal began her speech with a list of her qualifications, followed by a slideshow of data. She stated that one AP English Literature course and the AP Psychology course would be reinstated next week, but one AP English Literature course would not return. Immediately following her statements, there was an uproar from the audience.
Pati, one of the parents and original hunger strikers, jumped up and said, “Now, you say that you are reinstating the classes, but why did you take them away?”
The crowd cheered and waited for her response.
The principal responded with recounting data from 2011 that was on the Power Point and stated that the reading scores were not where they should be.
David Morales-Doyle, a teacher from Social Justice, countered that her data was old and that the 2012 data showed major gains. “Based off of this, we need to increase AP enrollment, not decrease it. All that data showed a positive trend, so it makes no sense to disrupt that.”
After this comment was made, multiple people in the crowd were cheering, jumping up and shouting, “Why would you remove AP classes to increase reading?”
At this point, a flow of speakers came. Carolina Geate, a well respected community activist, stood and shouted to the principal, “Do you know the values of this school? Those CPS officials over there are not your bosses. The community is your boss!”
Rico Gustein, a University of Illinois Professors and leader of Teachers for Social Justice, explained how the school was fought for with a hunger strike and the hunger strikers are supporting the students now. He explained how he knew the reason for these actions: CPS wants to privatize Little Village High School.
Dr. David Stoval, a community representative on the ALSC, came to the mic and said, “How is the decision made over the last two weeks in the best interest of the students?”
The CPS network staff did not speak until the whole audience began to chant, “Go to the mic, go to the mic!”
Maria Amador, a CPS instructional coordinator, and Anthony Spivy, the chief of high school support, told the audience that they did not have answers to their questions, because the network chief was not in attendance.
This further infuriated the audience. People began shouting, “Why not?” “Where is the network chief?” “Why isn’t she here if this meeting was set up?” The CPS network staff returned their seats, providing no answers.
One of the most impactful moments of the night was when a group of students gathered at the microphone in support of a peer. The student explained the principal would not allow her to read a poem or speak about the occupation at the school town hall earlier that week. With tears falling down her face, the student read a poem by Silverstein called, “The Voice,”
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you -- just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
Following the poetry reading, parents asked why the student was not allowed to read her poem. The principal stated, “She was trying to make a political statement…”
The audience immediately began booing and yelling, “Do you know what school you are at? You are at Social Justice High School!”
Then the students began chanting, “Where’s the justice in social justice?” and the whole audience joined in chanting. The principal walked out of the room to the chants of, “We were born out of struggle, the struggle continues.”
It was powerful to see this amazing display of community member courage and unity, students and staff standing up to administration, saying no to privatization and demanding what is best for the students. Hopefully, other schools will learn from Social Justice’s struggle, and see how community can reclaim the power in education and demand change.