Teaching Profession

Teachers Walk Off the Job at Chicago’s Urban Prep

By Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune — June 08, 2021 3 min read
Images shows hand drawn group of protestors.

With just two weeks left to the school year, teachers at the city’s Urban Prep Academies’ three charter high schools hit the picket line Monday, striking over what educators say is a lack of support for special education students.

The strike was declared after Urban Prep administrators and the Chicago Teachers Union were unable to land an agreement during a weekend bargaining session, CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis said.

“We have been trying to land an agreement that respects our students, our families and the educators who serve them for three years,” Urban Prep math teacher Dana Wilson said. “Roughly 30 percent of our students need special education services that are chronically shortchanged. Classrooms desperately need resources and our schools need stable staffing, instead of bloated bureaucracies and foot-dragging on vital student needs.”

Officials at Urban Prep were not immediately available for comment Monday.

Urban Prep enrolls around 2,000, mostly Black young men at three public charter high schools in “high-need communities” in Chicago, and includes Englewood, Bronzeville and West campuses. Touted as the first public charter high school for boys, Urban Prep premiered in Englewood in 2006 and claims an unbroken streak of every graduate being accepted to a four-year college.

Last month, CTU officials filed an unfair labor practice charge against the charter high school’s management for “a range of abuses, including refusing to release critical financial and other information,” union officials said.

The weekend impasse at the bargaining table was a result of management declining to commit to “critically important and federally mandated” services for students in special education programs, Geovanis said.

Despite Urban Prep having received more than $3 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds for salaries and services in addition to its regular CPS funding, Geovanis said, the charter network has a “long track record of financial mismanagement,” including having missed payroll twice.

“We’d rather be teaching our students, but if it takes a strike to win the protections we need, we’ll be on the picket lines,” special education teacher Shelley Aaron said. “We remain ready to meet with Urban Prep management, despite them letting this come to a strike simply because they don’t want to enshrine critical protections like legally required special education supports in our contract.

“We hope management understands we’re serious about standing up for our students’ needs and bargains with us to land an agreement that gets our students back to school,” Aaron said.

Separately, the CTU lambasted management at another charter high school, EPIC Academy on the city’s South Side, where Geovanis said teachers are considering a strike against the charter operator after the termination of four teachers, three of whom were involved in trying to ratify the charter school’s first CTU contract.

Geovanis said EPIC teachers, who voted to join the CTU last July, signed a petition demanding that all four teachers, three of whom are Black, be brought back, and in the meantime, have halted the ratification of their contract until the issue is resolved.

But LeeAndra Khan, executive director of EPIC Academy, said Monday that the tentative collective bargaining agreement with CTU has not yet been ratified, and officials at the charter high school “are still responsible for ensuring we have the right teachers serving our students.”

Khan said while four provisional employees were not asked to return for the next school year, the “staffing changes made were typical to pre-pandemic operations, with an average of three provisional employees discharged each year, comparable to most other schools.”

“CTU has made misleading public comments and false accusations that these separations were grounded in race. This is not true. EPIC has renewed the contracts of 21 provisional teachers for 2021-22 school year — 11 of whom are Black — who consistently demonstrate our values and standards,” Khan said, adding: “As a Black female leader, I am appalled at these accusations from a labor union led by a wealthy white man.”

Khan said 40 percent of EPIC tenured teachers are Black, compared with 21 percent of all CPS teachers.

“CTU has made claims that these separations are retaliation for union activity. This is also not true,” Khan said, adding: “EPIC leadership worked with CTU during 25 negotiation sessions to craft a contract that is a win for everyone.”

Copyright (c) 2021, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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