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The labor movement has lost a giant

June 11, 2018

Steelworker Ed Sadlowski set the benchmark for defending the working class.

CHICAGO, June 11, 2018—Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement today in response to the death of steelworker and labor leader Ed Sadlowski:

Ed Sadlowski fought for the working class. As a rank-and-file activist and working class labor leader, he led from a place of profound respect and love for his fellow workers. And the working class loved him back. While some labor ‘leaders’ were trying to curry favor with the corporate bosses who were outsourcing good union jobs, Ed was mounting a battle from the trenches for union democracy and the dignity of every union family in his orbit.

And his orbit was vast. In the 1970s, he led one of the most potent movements for labor democracy in the nation’s history. That titanic battle garnered huge popular support among workers, and has inspired every progressive labor movement in the last 45 years. That movement has been long in coming to fruition, but it has never died – because the children and the grandchildren of the workers who were inspired by Oil Can Eddie have kept that movement alive.

Ed said what few in power had the decency to admit: that ordinary workers have intelligence and creativity and grace, and deserve the rights and working conditions that allow us to live with dignity and possibility. I was honored to learn from him, and honored to call him a friend.

Our entire union sends our deepest condolences to his family – particularly our union sister and Ed’s daughter Sue Garza, who Eddie raised as a chip off the old block – and who, like her father, has the back of working people everywhere.

Eddie Sadlowski with his daughter Sue Sadlowski Garza

School board’s policies and educational 'hunger games' drive the code of silence in our schools

June 08, 2018

As a CPS social worker, I was horrified to hear the news of students being sexually abused – and those cases not being properly reported.  As a clinician, I have many situations where DCFS has to be called because a child has been molested outside of school by a family member, family friend or other molester.  It has always been in our training and in our school’s policy to always report! So what has gone wrong? My fellow clinicians and I started discussing the need for more trainings, after assuming that administrators and staff are not of aware what needs to be – and is required to be – reported. 

Then I started thinking more broadly about what has been happening at the Board, and the roots of this disaster started making more sense to me. 

The Board has created an extremely competitive climate within its schools: 1+, IB, Wall to Wall IB, AP classes, dual credit classes and whatnot –all sorts of classifications that make schools attractive to the best and brightest students. And with student-based budgeting, the more students we attract to our schools, the more resources we have for our students. These ‘hunger games’ between schools create an atmosphere of intense competition, and discourage sharing information that could expose schools to scrutiny, criticism and the threat of negative impacts to ratings, enrollment, budgets and more. 

What’s the result? Problems are not accurately reported or are under-reported, from dirty schools and high dropout rates to harassment or sexual abuse by students or staff – anything that may hurt the reputation of the school!

Teachers and other school personnel are deeply affected by this competition. A job at a ‘good’ school – one with adequate resources, a well-maintained facility and adequate staff – is hard to get and in short supply. Many teachers who’ve been displaced by school closings are still looking for a permanent job, and other teachers are nervous about speaking up to administrators for fear it may affect their evaluation scores and their job.

The threat is real. We’ve recently seen several teachers and clinicians threatened with job loss or run out of their schools in the wake of whistle-blowing or advocating for their students. Some teachers have even figured out that if they play nice with My Voice/My School teacher surveys, their school has a better chance of becoming a 1+ school. If they withhold their true feelings about poor school climates, poor relationships with administrators or other problems, their school will earn more points towards the coveted 1+ school ranking!

Checks and balances, which are a MUST in any healthy organization, are absent in CPS from the top of the system down. We don’t have an elected school board, and administrators and staff are afraid to challenge the Mayor, as we clearly see in all of the rubber-stamping that goes on. This trickles down from administrators to staff and students, very much like a dysfunctional family system! 

What do we do?  Will more trainings and in-services or additional policies and procedures solve this critical problem? Not without real accountability, an end to fear-based governance, and the freedom to put our children’s needs ahead of politics. The bottom line is that, without a healthy, democratic process – including an elected, representative school board – trainings and new policies alone will not work, because the dysfunction that drives the code of silence remains.

We see it in our brothers and sisters in the Police Department – and our school system is getting just as bad.  Two recent CEO’s have been forced out – and one is in jail – for corruption and ethics scandals. This board has been exposed for leaving our vulnerable special education students unprotected and abused with their new policies and procedures. But none of this dysfunction was tackled internally. Instead, teachers and parents were ignored or worse.

We need to end this lack of accountability if our school system is to become healthy. All schools need to have the resources to be excellent schools. Budgets should be based on the needs of every school and its students, and not primarily on the number of students attending. The competitive marketing of schools and the push to attract students at any cost needs to end. Excellent neighborhood schools should be the norm and not the exception, where the administrators, frontline staff, parents and students share a commitment to the community -- and we’re all dedicated to keeping children and their neighborhood safe.

If the Mayor and his administrators are truly serious about keeping our students safe, then we need to see these changes: an end to educational hunger games, an elected, representative school board free from political manipulation, and sustainable community schools that are adequately resourced according to the needs of each of our students and their families.

CPS school social worker and CTU member Bessie Tsitsopoulos

An update on -- and a few choice words from -- our President, Karen Lewis

June 06, 2018

Sisters and Brothers:

I spoke with Karen yesterday, who is in great spirits and advised us that she had planned a medical procedure today in the hospital. We had hoped to wait to make a public statement until we’d had a chance to update our members directly at tonight’s House of Delegates meeting – the last of the school year. 

You should know that Karen is in regular contact with me and the rest of our union colleagues at the CTU, and to be honest, was more interested in directing a message to the CTU members, parents, students and people of this city. Karen said, and I quote – “Tell our delegates let’s get ready to fight!” She said for us to go back to our school communities tomorrow ready to fight for safer, well-resourced and staffed school communities and for a better contract for our members.

As we all know, Karen is a fighter. She is looking forward to the coming rallies, actions and negotiations, and is excited about attending the AFT convention in Pittsburg this summer.

We join the residents of this city in sending her our love and our best wishes.

In solidarity,

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey

We must do better in protecting our children

by CTU Communications  |  June 05, 2018

The Chicago Teachers Union is calling for an independent task force of parents, students, clinicians, teachers, union leaders, administrators and outside experts to address issues of sexual abuse in Chicago public schools – and to devise policies that will create safer school communities – in the wake of a series of blockbuster Chicago Tribune reports.

“As a father and a teacher, I’m horrified by these reports,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “Any abuse of a child is morally repugnant and wrong on every level. There can be no code of silence in our schools, and we’ve got to do better at listening to our students. Schools must be a safe space where students, their families, and workers are protected.”

The CTU is also renewing its call for more school clinicians, who are trained explicitly to address issues related to physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children. CPS has consistently understaffed clinicians – including social workers and nurses who can provide age-appropriate health training for students to recognize and report inappropriate or abusive contact. Responsible follow-up for those who identify and report child sexual abuse is also lacking, as is regular information for parents and guardians on how to identify warning signs of abuse or access assistance and resources to support children and families.

“The entire process in our schools is a bureaucratic mess,” said school social worker and CTU member Emily Penn. “Where are the preventive measures? CPS, for example, has made no mention of Erin’s law, which mandates that schools teach body safety awareness and give children tools to report abuse in a safe way, as well as staff training to respond to concerns and report appropriately. While some schools cover this material in health and sex education classes, other schools do not.”

DCFS requires school staff to complete online certification on how to report sexual abuse. But some administrators and principals do not follow mandated reporting requirements, don’t take reports from children seriously, and discourage teachers from contacting DCFS, says Penn.

“School nurses and social workers are specially trained in how to handle sexual abuse,” said Penn, “but we have too few clinicians to support students, teachers and staff – less than 150 certified school nurses and only 170 counselors to cover over 600 schools. Much of our time is bound up with the burden of special education paperwork. That’s not enough to get students and staff the support they need, at the same time that we deal with real shortcomings in administrative follow-up or reporting on outcomes.”

CPS has been plagued for years with a lack of transparency and accountability at the highest levels of authority, from board members that the mayor appoints to school executives who serve with the mayor’s blessing. Without input from an independent task force unencumbered by political constraints, the CTU fears next steps on remedying the prevention and identification of sexual abuse may also fall short.

“These reports once again demonstrate the failure of mayoral control in our schools – and why we demand an independent, representative elected school board,” said Sharkey. “As long as the public face of our schools is linked to a mayor’s political fortunes, CPS remains vulnerable to practices driven by political expediency rather than by what is right and best for our students. That must end.”

CPS must deploy policies built on best practices that work for students – and must adequately staff schools with expert clinicians as frontline advocates to support students, says Sharkey.

“In the era of the Me Too movement, we need to remember that the first thing required of us is to listen to students,” said Sharkey. “Our union cares deeply about the integrity of the teaching profession and our members’ vitally important work to educate and care for students. We support members’ due process rights, just as we support preventive strategies and due diligence in reporting possible abuse. None of that can happen when CPS won’t staff social workers with expertise on this critical issue, or when administrators put political imperatives ahead of every student’s right to safe, secure learning conditions.”

School Assessment Votes 2018

by Norine Gutekanst, Organizing Director  |  June 01, 2018

stop overtesting

CTU members in CPS district-run schools have the opportunity to recover instructional time by eliminating excessive tests at their school.

CTU members now have an established procedure to implement our contract Article 44-32, which limits excessive standardized testing in our schools. At every school, our members can vote on their school’s assessment plan for 2018-2019 school year.

What tests do I have to give?

Under contract article 44-32, CPS can only require tests that are mandated by state or federal law, REACH tests, and tests required for particular programs (e.g., IB). Mandated tests include PARCC, NWEA Spring, REACH Performance Tasks, KIDS, SAT (grade 11), NAEP, Illinois Science Assessment, ACCESS for English Language Learners, Dynamic Learning Maps Alternative Assessment, and IB Assessments.

Which tests are NOT required?

TRC/DIBELS, mCLASS Math, NWEA MAP for Primary Grades (MPG), Progress Monitoring, 5-week assessments, Measuring Up Live, Fountas & Pinnell, Compass, ANet, Fall & Winter NWEA, PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 do not fit into any of those mandated categories.

PPC and Principal Must Consult

This spring, the principal must consult with the PPC and faculty to prepare an assessment plan for next school year. The Delegate and PPC should make sure that the plan is discussed by the faculty, including in grade levels/bands, subject areas, and special education. The principal must provide an assessment plan to teaching staff on or before June 5, 2018.

We highly recommend you convene a union meeting immediately to discuss, as a staff, your preferences, to maximize unity and influence over the school assessment plan and vote.


Schools have a window from now until June 4, 2018 for assessment plan development.

Deadline for principal to present assessment plan proposal to staff: June 5, 2018

Voting deadline: June 12, 2018

Adoption of the plan shall be by majority vote.

Teachers and the principal vote, using fair voting procedures, which are agreed upon by the PPC and the principal.

If the PPC is unanimous, they can authorize a particular grade/subject area or sub-group to conduct a simultaneous supplemental vote on assessments applicable only to that group.

If the recommended plan fails to win a majority, the principal and network may offer an alternative assessment plan. We strongly recommend that your PPC and faculty firmly represent the staff’s preference at this stage.

If no plan is approved, the plan can be submitted to strategic bargaining, the monthly meetings held between CTU and the CPS Labor Relations Department.

A Victory Against Over-testing

We view the new procedure and CPS draft assessment calendar as a victory, in that the vast majority of tests that educators have been forced to administer are not mandatory, and we have the right to vote them down, if we deem it educationally appropriate.

Key Resources

Send CTU Your School’s Info

Please send your school’s proposed plan and the results of the vote via email to Vera Lindsay.

If you have questions, please email the CTU Organizing Department or contact your field representative.

Study: 2013 Chicago School Closings Failed To Help Students

by Sarah Karp - wbez  |  May 23, 2018

Despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s promise that mass school closings in 2013 would lead to a “brighter future,” Chicago students didn’t benefit academically and on average their performance suffered, particularly in math, according to a University of Chicago Consortium on School Research study released on Tuesday.

The groundbreaking study goes on to report that for students and teachers, the transition was traumatic and chaotic.

Previous studies also have found that school closings hurt children. But this time, city and school district officials said they could mitigate the damage by investing $180 million in schools that took in children from underenrolled closed schools and with a logistics company to make the transition smooth.

The study is the first in-depth examination of the impact of the 50 school closings — the largest number closed at once in the United States. Some 11,000 students attended the closed schools, and another 13,000 students attended the schools that received them. All told, 95 schools buildings were packed up and moved.

Please click here to continue reading at

Legislative Update: Restore bargaining rights, TIF funding for education

by stacy davis gates - ctu legislative and political director  |  May 18, 2018

ILLUSTRATION: Springfield updateRight now, there are two House bills in Springfield that, if passed, would provide a great service to our members and school communities. We need these bills released from purgatory (also known as the Senate Assignments Committee)! Emailcall or visit your state senator and demand that HB1253 and HB3720 are released from the Assignments Committee, and demand that the Senate pass legislation enacting an elected, representative school board for Chicago. Because as we have recently seen, mayoral control is a failed policy.

HB 1253 deletes section 4.5 of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act. Section 4.5 lists subjects of bargaining that are not permitted in Chicago, but mandatory in the rest of the state, including third-party contracting, class size and staffing decisions.

Prior to 1995, educators in Chicago had the same bargaining terms as those in other school districts throughout the state. The 1995 Chicago School Reform Act created different bargaining rights between school employees in Chicago and school employees in every other school district. HB1253 would return Chicago’s school employees to the same status as those in every other district in Illinois.

Why is this important?

  1. Chicago’s experience with outsourcing is a cautionary tale. Chicago’s third-party contracting has resulted in such calamities as the privatization of school custodians, which has resulted in filthy and unhealthy classrooms; the privatization of nurses, which has put students’ health at risk; and the proposed elimination of school clerks, which is a predominantly Black and Latino female workforce. As a result, the classroom experience for both students and educators has suffered, and the district’s costs do not decline. There is no recourse for CPS failures under existing law.

  2. Bargaining limits are bad for students. Public school employees in every other district in the state are able to advocate for their students through the collective bargaining process. Chicago’s public school employees are unable to undertake the same advocacy, which includes such issues as:

    1. Class size. Chicago’s class sizes have exploded since 1995; whereas they were once among the smallest in the state, they are now nearly the largest.

    2. Wraparound services. Management control over positions like social workers, counselors, school nurses and school psychologists has meant that Chicago’s students— many of whom are subject to incredibly traumatic circumstances—have lost access to vitally important support services. Meanwhile, students in other parts of the state have regular access to grievance counseling, wraparound supports, and college and career guidance.

    3. Loss of experienced employees of color. The lack of layoff and recall processes has meant that experienced Black and Latino teachers have been forced out of the system through measures like school closures and turnarounds—a process that Chicago’s teachers cannot collectively bargain.

HB 3720 – Revise TIF Act to Fund Costs of Public Education. This bill creates parameters for tax increment financing (TIF) surpluses in Chicago, and mandates that money is used for school-based social services like social workers, school nurses and special education services. This measure addresses both deep cuts to special education and the dire need for trauma-informed social services for thousands of Chicago students. Research is clear that student social services improves student outcomes.

In other news under the dome, it is widely rumored that the current session will end with a budget on May 31. We continue to push for progressive revenue, and an increase in funding for the new school funding formula and teacher prep programs such as Grow Your Own. We are also supporting SJRCA4 (Chief sponsor: Rep. Lou Lang), or the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). While the Senate passed the measure, the House is having a tough time getting enough support. We need you to emailcall or visit your state representative and get them to support ratification of the ERA. The Chicago Teachers Union has a long history of support for this cause.

Finally, we are opposing SB2339—a bill supported and pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that will criminalize more youth while diverting valuable resources away from cash-strapped public schools and social services. We believe firmly that this legislation fails to address the needs of our communities and will only exacerbate the challenges we are already facing. We have been clear that our school communities need increased resources, democracy, stronger educator voice and an end to school-based budgeting. Instead we have received mass school closings, unprecedented budget cuts and higher class sizes. In opposing this bill, we stand in coalition with the Workers Center for Racial Justice; Community Renewal Society; National Association of Social Workers; Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Chicago Urban League; One Northside; Cook County Public Defenders; Cook County Board Office of the President; and hundreds of other organizations. Contact your representative and tell them to vote NO on SB2339. 

'They beat us down'

by BESSIE TSITSOPOULOS  |  May 14, 2018

The following is testimonial from CTU member Bessie Tsitsopoulos at a March 21 Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) open hearing for the public inquiry examining special education services and procedures in Chicago Public Schools.

Good afternoon. My name is Bessie Tsitsopoulos and I am a licensed school social worker. I have worked with Chicago Public Schools in that capacity since 2011. As a school social worker, I have worked in many schools, mainly in K-8buildings. This year, however, I am at Amundsen and DeVry Academy high schools.

I have chosen to file two affidavits with ISBE in order to have an opportunity to discuss concerns and experiences in providing services to special education students in CPS. One of my affidavits is a continuation of one filed by a parent of a student I serviced SY 2016-17, where his transportation services were removed in his Individual Education Plan by the district, as it determined that he did not qualify. I filed a dissenting opinion in that IEP, but also in a few more, that parents chose not pursue further through the legal system, as they did not have the resources and the means to do so. In that particular school year, new policies and procedures were introduced by the district in regards to transportation, paraprofessional support, extended school year, therapeutic day schools, and other issues. These policies and procedures basically required much more advanced documentation in order for special education students to qualify for those services, and it required approval by administrative district personnel and principals for students to be approved for the services.

The IEP team, which also includes parents and guardians, and has the most intimate knowledge of the student, no longer had the approval authority for these services.

In addition, in the last three years, class sizes in the general education classroom have increased by an average of five students. This has made it very difficult for special education students that are in co-taught/inclusion classes to receive the support they require in the least restrictive environment, and many are getting pulled back to a separate classroom in order to be more successful.

Many teachers and clinicians like myself found ourselves swamped with additional paperwork as we tried to complete all the additional justification documents. At times, we found ourselves in adversarial roles with the district as many of the services were denied, as in the case of the aforementioned student. Some of us lost our jobs due to our activism, while others like myself had their hand slapped and moved on to another school. Some chose not to advocate for their students, or bother with the extra paperwork. Regardless of how staff reacted, the most important part was that many vulnerable special education students, primarily minorities, had their services reduced or taken away completely. Few parents had the necessary skills and resources to advocate and appeal the decisions. As my student’s mother stated to her advocate, “They beat us down.”

*          *          *

According to the Standards for School Social Work Services published by the National Association of Social Workers, the following is recommend:

School social work services should be provided at a ratio of one school social worker to each school building serving up to 250 general education students, or a ratio of 1:250 students. When a school social worker is providing services to students with intensive needs, a lower ratio, such as 1:50, is suggested.

All disciplines have much lower ratios recommended than what CPS assigns to clinicians, and clinicians with extreme caseloads—triple what national organizations recommend—found themselves having to choose between providing services to students, completing documents or responding to crises concerning their students and their families. As you will see by some of my exhibits, many clinicians, including myself, have not been able to provide all the special education service minutes for their disciplines for the last few years, and special education students lose out on much-needed services once again.

All of the concerns that I have mentioned to you, we as staff members have tried to address through various ways with CPS such as Professional Problems Committees, joint committees, union contract negotiations and parent advocacy groups, without any success. These concerns continue to exist. For example, I have two schools with approximately 1,400 students between them. My caseload is 96 special education students and growing. Thirty two of them require full re-evaluations, and all of them require new IEPs, in addition to weekly minutes of service. I also provide for the socio-emotional needs of general education students.

I hope these hearings will be helpful in assisting our special education students to finally have their much-needed services restored, and to create a system of services that is equitable for them.

Bessie Tsitsopoulos is a social worker at Amundsen at DeVry Academy high schools.

ILLUSTRATION: Working Conditions

New survey shows CPS special ed problems continue despite ISBE probe

by Parents 4 Teachers  |  May 11, 2018

Despite claims that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has fixed the special ed problems at issue in a state probe, the vast majority of parents and teachers responding to a new survey say they continue to experience the same delays, denials and roadblocks in obtaining services for students that prompted the state investigation in the first place.

Legal advocates and parent groups will present the survey findings to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Wednesday to bolster their call for an independent monitor to oversee the CPS special ed program and for at minimum a $10 million dedicated fund to compensate students whose legally-required services were denied or delayed.

"Actions speak louder than words and survey data from thousands of parents and teachers confirm the problems that prompted our request for the ISBE investigation are continuing,” Matt Cohen, one of the lawyers representing the advocate groups that brought the state complaint, said. “We are talking about our most vulnerable students here and the only way to assure they are protected is with a robust and fully-staffed independent monitor who has the authority to compel CPS to follow the law.”

More than 2,200 parents, teachers and administrators responded to the survey, issued by the legal advocates and parent groups who sought the ISBE probe in the wake of massive complaints by special ed parents and teachers last year.

In one of the most shocking findings, 71 percent of all respondents said that legally-required student services were denied because the school couldn’t afford to hire the necessary staff, in clear violation of federal special ed law.

And 45 percent of all respondents reported students being denied their required aide because the school had insufficient student data or a district representative failed to attend the meeting to finalize the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), also a violation of federal law. IEPs are the federally-mandated roadmap for the education of students with disabilities.

The survey also found that CPS’s much-heralded revised procedure manual isn’t making the grade. CPS says it revised the manual to address the concerns of teachers and legal advocates who challenged the procedures put in place by ousted CEO Forrest Claypool last year

Yet the survey found:

  • 95 percent of teachers and 91 percent of administrators said they have yet to receive a training on the revised manual. Without proper training, teachers and administrators continue to have problems approving services for special ed students in the complicated, online system CPS uses to establish IEPs.
  • 46 percent of parents said that their child was not consistently receiving the services indicated on their IEP this school year and another 22 percent were unsure of whether services were being provided.
  • Some 69 percent of parents said they had never even seen the procedure manual, which is critical to obtaining needed services, like one-on-one aides or transportation, for their children.
  • 71 percent of parents have never heard of the new CPS Special Ed Parent Advisory Committee, which CPS CEO Janice Jackson claims will enable parents to have a greater say in developing and administering special ed policy in the district.

"After years of having issues getting proper services for my son, he was wrongfully denied

transportation services last year,” CPS parent Nancy Curran, who submitted a sworn affidavit in the ISBE probe, said. “I participated in this inquiry with the goal of sharing our experience so that systems and structures are put in place to improve special ed service delivery for all students. I believe the only way to achieve this is through an independent monitor with staff who can hold CPS accountable.”

“This survey conducted over only two weeks time magnifies the depth of the violations of children’s rights and the extent to which CPS fails to engage stakeholders,” Legal Council for Health Justice managing attorney Amy Zimmerman added. “Over 1,400 anonymous comments bolster the need for whistleblower protections along with accountability.”

The legal advocates are delivering the full survey results along with a detailed proposal for remedies to ISBE board members Wednesday. The state board is scheduled to rule on the group’s request at its May 16 meeting in Springfield.

Apply for 2018 CTU Summer Organizing Institute

by ctu communications  |  May 08, 2018

Take a leading role in the campaign to promote our members’ rights and fight for educational justice! The CTU’s 2018 Summer Organizing Institute will provide training in organizing skills, leadership and union and community education issues.

Interns will meet with CTU members, parents and community leaders to prepare for our contract fight; win improved school staffing and funding; expand access to quality early education, expanded sanctuary and paraprofessionals rights; demand an elected school board; and engage in other struggles to improve our schools and our jobs.

Interns will also organize meetings and public events, mobilize supporters, and develop grassroots leaders. Help build the movement for good schools for all, while learning skills that will help you become a school leader when you return to your school in the fall!

  • Interns will receive a weekly stipend and reimbursement for transportation expenses.
  • Position requires strong communications skills and a passion for social justice.
  • Must be willing to travel throughout the city and have access to an automobile.
  • Minimum four-week commitment.
  • Bilingual abilities are a plus.
  • Open to all CTU members: PSRPs, clinicians and others encouraged to apply.
  • Summer Organizing Institute begins July 9. Institute will end on August 4.

If interested, please send a cover letter and resume by May 20, 2018, to Romel Ferguson in the Organizing Department at

ILLUSTRATION: Navy Pier TIF project

Chicago Teachers Union