“Safe Schools: It’s Union Work.”
That’s what the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has decided with its drive this year to support teachers who are dealing with discipline and safety problems in the trenches.
Deborah M. Lynch, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, said the union launched its security campaign after an annual canvas of CTU delegates last year indicated that teachers wanted more union support and advocacy on safety matters.
Looking to the United Federation of Teachers of New York City as a model, the heads of the Chicago organization formed a safety and security department, surveyed delegates on the scope of the 435,000-student district’s violence and discipline problems, and held a safety conference in April for its members.
The survey results were troubling, Ms. Lynch said.
Of the 255 respondents—representing the same number of schools in the 600-school Chicago system—61 percent said there had been incidents of violence in their schools in the past year.
More than half the respondents identified classrooms and hallways as the settings for most of the problems; and nearly 70 percent said students were the perpetrators of violence, while 16 percent pointed a finger at parents.
Thirty-two percent of the respondents said they themselves had been victims of assault in the past year.
Nearly all the respondents said their schools had assigned security guards, but only 39 percent reported having school-based police officers. And while 60 percent said their schools had metal detectors, only 25 percent said the machines were used every day.
Based on the survey results, union leaders want to weigh in on security issues at the district and school levels, see that the Chicago system’s safety code is in force throughout the district, and ensure that CTU members understand the security provisions in the union’s contract with the schools.
Ms. Lynch described the district administration as “cooperative and receptive” so far, and a district spokesman said in a statement that the administration welcomes the union’s “efforts to improve the safety climate of our schools.”
—Darcia Harris Bowman
A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2004 edition of Education Week