Is the CTU Minimizing the Fight to Save Sarah Chambers?
By Jim Vail
Teachers this past week have to be pretty down after we found out that the Chicago Teachers Union top activist Sarah Chambers was fired from her position because she supposedly did not follow protocol when administrating the PARCC test and allegedly set up a bus to transport students to the Chicago Board of Education meeting.
Chambers is telling everyone this is not true - they want to silence the critics like her who galvanize the parents to fight against draconian special education cuts because the board claims it has no money, while the mayor just set up another scheme that will pay banks about $70,000 a day to borrow more money.
If you are a general fighting a war, this is your top soldier, the one who has run numerous valiant missions to defeat the enemy. And she just went down.
But our general - the CTU - is acting as if this person barely exists.
First, when a rally was held to save Sarah Chambers job at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village earlier this spring, not one CTU officer attended the event.
|Lindblom delegate Ed Hershey holds a poster to support Sarah Chambers at a rally in the spring.|
CTU VP Jesse Sharkey told me it was because they had other things to do that took precedence.
The word from insiders - I guess I'm not included in that group - was that they wanted the event to look organic in that it was the community who wanted Sarah back, not the CTU. Never mind that it was simply an attack on the union's most militant activist.
Sarah Chambers is the CTU - she has been what we would dream every teacher would be, or at least a lot more, a fighter for public education who does not fear the powers that be. Quite simply - she is the union! Her fire power is what makes the CTU work!
The CTU did hold a press conference for Sarah last Friday to announce that a federal lawsuit against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked Chicago Board of Education for retaliation against Chambers for her First Amendment-protected criticisms of its deficient services to special education teachers. "The Board also broke the Illinois Whistleblower Act when it fired Chambers for blowing the whistle on its violations of laws protecting special education students."
Chambers will have a hearing at the IL State Board of Education about her job.
The suit contends that the Board's actions are unlawful as a wrongful discharge because all employees in Illinois are protected from retaliations when they point out violations of the law.
"The Board's reasons for firing Ms. Chambers are pretexts to hide its true, retaliatory motive," said Chamber's attorney Josiah Groff. "We look forward to proving this in court."
But when I went to look up this story about Chambers on the CTU website, there was no mention of the press conference on the site. It simply vanished!
Her face is at the top of the masthead of the website - CTUnet.com - along with five other faces, entitled the CTU Six - which are other teachers, some delegates, who the CTU claim have been targeted to be fired for their activism.
CTU President Karen Lewis told the media this is not just about Sarah Chambers, but all the members who challenge the board and get fired as a result.
|CTU President Karen Lewis|
But when it comes to people - Sarah is at the top of the list. Her activism helped make Karen the CTU president, her activism reversed the disastrous CTU support of SB7 by forcing the executive board to reverse its blanket support of the anti-union legislation that Lewis worked out with the state legislature, her activism held off another school - Spry High School - from invading Saucedo's School and ruining its programs, her activism included numerous fights against school closures, special education cuts, privatization, disastrous contract deals, etc, etc.
Lewis did feel it important enough to attend a sentencing hearing for former disgraced CPS CEO and now felon Barbara Byrd Bennett.
Lewis did feel it important enough to say she supported Chuy Garcia to be mayor of the city even though the house of delegates had not yet voted on the endorsement.
But Lewis has not stepped up on her own volition to fight for her top soldier.
It's been a sad week for defenders of public education and even sadder to know union politics trumps what a union should truly stand and fight for.