Chicago Public Schools Suspends Activist Teacher Fighting for Students
By Jim Vail
Special to Chicago News
Special to Chicago News
Students, parents, teachers and community members gathered at Saucedo Elementary School this week on the Southwest Side to demand that the Chicago Public Schools reinstate their beloved special education teacher and fiery student rights activist Sarah Chambers who was suspended a week ago.
“I’m appalled that they are trying to make her an example because of the great job she is doing here,” said Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, who ran against Rahm Emanuel for mayor in the last election. “I have seen first hand what she has done here. She’s a known advocate for public education and the rights of special education.”
The school board is taking steps to fire Chambers but have not said the exact reason why. CPS made a statement that she has violated school policies.
A rally took place at Saucedo Elementary School on Tuesday where parents, students, politicians and union activists spoke about a wonderful teacher who has touched many of the students’ lives by fighting the system on their behalf to stop special education cuts, excessive testing, school closings, etc.
|Delegate and super activist Sarah Chambers was suspended from teaching.|
“She’s awesome,” said Chris Baehrend, a teacher and president of the union of charter teachers who attended the rally. “CPS doesn’t like people who defy authority.”
Chambers helped lead a boycott against the PARCC exam, a state mandated test that many believe is harmful to the students. Most states have dropped the test. She has also been an outspoken opponent of cutting special education services.
Chambers is an award-winning special education teacher who is consistently rated distinguished – the highest, and for many, unattainable rating a teacher can get.
|Lindblom delegate Ed Hershey holds a sign at the rally.|
The Chicago Board of Education earlier fired Troy LaRaviere, an outspoken award-winning principal at Blaine Elementary School on the North Side after he criticized CPS policies that he said hurt the children.
Many speculate that LaRaviere - who constantly blasted the mayor – may want to run for mayor. He was seen as one of the city’s most outspoken critics and thus a threat to the mayor who runs the city’s public schools.
Chambers, who has told the media she just wants to return to the classroom and be with her students, is another top critic of the city’s educational policies. However, she has no political ambitions beyond fighting to save public education.
“We believe that she’s been targeted because she’s been an effective leader,” said Rod Estvan, with Access Living, the largest disability rights organization in the city.
Chambers says CPS is making false allegations that she encouraged students to opt out of taking the PARCC exam and said she will fight it at her upcoming hearing which has not yet been scheduled.
However, another teacher at the rally was Anne Carlson who like Chambers helped lead a boycott against the PARCC test at Drummond Elementary School. She told Chicago News that CPS never took disciplinary action against her.
|Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia attended the rally.|
The parents and students at Saucedo say they want their beloved teacher to return as soon as possible.
“She’s touched the lives of a lot of people,” said Saucedo associate union delegate John Toman.
Chants of “Let Sarah teach!” rang outside the Little Village school as her supporters marched with banners in support of her.
Others at the rally speculated that Chambers has been a leader for gay and lesbian rights for students and this made her a target.
She tells people her activism against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s educational policies is the reason why they want to fire her.
“There’s really an attack against me, because I’m an outspoken union activist, and especially an outspoken special education advocate,” she said. “They cut special education by $80 million at least this year alone, and it’s really hurting our students. I’ve spoken at the Board of Education, and brought parents and students to speak at the Board of Education, and frankly they want teachers to be silent. You know, they want them to follow their orders, and I can’t be silent, because it hurts my students with disabilities.”
The board first took action against Chambers when they changed the special education students’ schedules and tried to double the number of students she would service. CPS claimed it was a “more stringent approach” to identify and educate the students. But Chambers, like always, successfully fought back so she could continue to work with her 8th grade students.
She also led a successful fight against merging Saucedo with Spry High School.
She is a formidable foe to the city’s hierarchy.
When word hit social media that the board was moving to fire her, facebook, twitter and other online forums lit up in support of their unofficial leader to defend public education.
“Mrs Chambers escucha!, estamost con tu lucha!” wrote one comment on the facebook page promoting the rally. “Mrs. Chambers listen! We are with you in the fight!”
More than 3,400 people have signed a petition in support of Chambers.
Chambers has not only fought the city powers to defend public education. She has also spoken out against the Chicago Teachers Union leadership for agreeing to a contract that includes the special education cuts and earlier making a deal with legislators called SB7 that many felt sold out the teachers’ interests such as seniority rights.
Another speaker at the rally noted that Chambers just recently returned from Brazil where she attended meetings to support public school teachers there.
“She’s indefatigable,” Baehrend told Chicago News.