CPS teachers, staff are responding to the crisis

[Editor's note: The following letter was published in the April 1, 2020, Chicago Tribune print edition and online (here) in response to the Tribune's editorial of March 30. See Substance coverage here.]

Chicago Public Schools teachers and support staff are scrambling to respond to the coronavirus shutdown by writing and implementing online curriculum, coordinating and planning lessons, and providing instruction and support to our students at the same time that we take care of our own families.

Yet the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board (“Don’t settle for a lost school year, Chicago,” March 30) seems to see this global health crisis as an opportunity to scapegoat frontline educators — under the guise of the call for “flexibility” — because it still hasn’t forgiven us for our strike last fall. Recall that the 2019 strike won powerful guarantees for schools, including a nurse in every building.

There is no more flexible class of workers than public school educators. We contend with shrinking financial supports and poorly crafted mandates literally every day of our work lives, whether we’re working virtually or in our schools. As frontline educators, no one knows better than we do what is working and what is still needed as we shift to remote learning for our students. We are not flexible about suspending hard-won gains for our students — gains enshrined in our enforceable contract, the very tool that allows us to demand real equity for our students during this pandemic.

As educators, our top priority is our students’ safety and well-being, and we’ve been working every day and over the weekends since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced school closures to reach as many students as we can to offer children learning, support and comfort as they struggle through the realities of sheltering in place. We’ve also advocated for practical common-good demands that provide students and families with needed support.

We’ve embraced a platform built on the right to recovery for all — including immediate housing for tens of thousands of homeless students, additional supports for special education students, more health and wellness professionals for our school communities, and a host of other equity needs.

Our enforceable contract is the only tool we have to hold CPS and city executives accountable. We’ve asked CPS to accelerate some of the commitments it made in our contract, including staffing up more quickly with health professionals. And we won’t betray our students by abandoning what we’ve won for them, or backing off our call to accelerate real equity at this time of critical need.

— Jesse Sharkey, president, Chicago Teachers Union


April 4, 2020 at 7:32 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Jesse's excellent response

I was thrilled to see Jesse's response in the Tribune on Wednesday. I'd skip reading the Trib altogether if not for Rex Huppke and Heidi Stevens. Oh yeah, one other good thing about the Chicago Tribune: the delivery bags are good for picking up my dog's poop.

April 4, 2020 at 8:10 PM

By: Kim Scipes

Jesse Sharkey's response

Right on, Jesse! Great response!

April 5, 2020 at 9:37 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

Union Rebuttal to Tribune Offal

I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of using the word "offal" before. Glad the Trib gave me the perfect opportunity. The Chicago Teachers Union rebuttal by President Jesse Sharkey was powerful and, I hope, instructive to readers, especially the Tribune editorialists who seem to know so little.

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