Chicago 'walk ins': What are parents, teachers, and students protesting?

Hundreds of Chicagoans stood behind the teachers' union in a demonstration against Chicago Public Schools and what they see as its failure to meet the needs of students and educators. 

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Chicago Public Schools District CEO Forrest Claypool listens to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a July 2015 news conference in Chicago. Chicago school officials said Tuesday Feb. 2, 2016, they're ready to cut $100 million from school budgets and force teachers to pay more pension costs after the teachers' union rejected the latest offer in contentious contract negotiations that have lasted over a year.

Parents, students, and teachers are protesting at more than 200 schools across Chicago in a series of “walk-ins” against budget cuts and what they consider as failure on the part of Chicago Public Schools to meet the needs of students and educators.

Planned by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the demonstration is part of a national campaign in defense of schools, organized by an umbrella group called The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Supporters met 30 minutes before classes began on Wednesday and marched into the schools together.

"Our schools are being starved of funds. They're threatening layoffs in the middle of the school year – pay cuts in the middle of the school year,” CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey told ABC news. “We're trying to gather everyone who loves public schools to come into our buildings.”

Across the country, about two dozen cities are part of the wider campaign to “reclaim our schools.” In Boston, protesters are rallying at City Hall to deliver a petition to Mayor Marty Walsh, demanding that the district restore funding from next year’s budget cuts. And in Los Angeles, more than 20,000 are expected to be part of the walk-ins.

With signs that say “Fund schools with equity!” and “What happened to children first?” the Chicago protesters stood in solidarity with the teachers as their union continues to negotiate with the district on a multi-year contract after an initial offer was rejected.

As CBS Chicago reported, the demonstrators are calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool to make up for the district’s budget gaps from the city’s resources.

“After just three weeks of negotiations, the district made an offer that relied on a reduction of more than 2,000 educators from the system, made no provision against subsequent ballooning class sizes and included nothing but the vaguest indicators of where new revenue would be found,” the organization said in a statement last Tuesday.

CPS recently proposed $120 million in budget cuts and have borrowed $725 million in high-interest bonds while awaiting pension help from Springfield. The union says that this will only hurt taxpayers while benefiting big banks in which the city has a vested interest.

In preparation of the event, CPS addressed parents and staff Tuesday with a letter saying that the safety of students will be their main priority in dealing with the protest. Principals won’t be letting strangers into school buildings, the letter suggested.

“The safety of our students is always our top priority, and CPS Safety and Security will continue to work with each school to assess individual situations as they arise. We are hopeful that ongoing negotiations will lead to a final agreement,” Mr. Claypool wrote in the letter, co-signed by CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson.

“A permanent solution to our District’s financial crisis exists. Fair funding from Springfield is needed: despite being 20 percent of the students in the state, CPS students get less than 15 percent of what the state spends on education,” they continued.

In Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, Kelly High School had about 75 students, teachers, and parents who participated in the walk-in. Among them is Evelyn Solis, a senior.

“I love it how Kelly is like a huge family, you know? If it wasn’t for the teachers and staff, I wouldn’t have been a straight A student. I wouldn’t know how important my education can be, and how it can affect my future,” she told CBS.

CPS has threatened teacher layoffs by the end of the month if the contract negotiation fails to wrap up. The union said that a strike may be feasible – and necessary.

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