Hundreds of unionized teachers went on strike Tuesday morning after months of failed negotiations with Acero charter network officials.
About 7,500 students from 15 Acero campuses across Chicago missed school in the nation’s first-ever charter school teachers strike.
Morning Shift discusses the historic charter strike with Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz K-12 school in West Rogers Park and council chair for the CTU-United Educators for Justice, and Helena Stangle, chief external affairs officer for Acero.
Tony Sarabia: “So I want to start by you giving us a sense of the working conditions at the Acero schools.”
Andy Crooks: “Sure. That’s a big question. I would say on average we work a longer day and a longer year than our CPS district counterparts, and we receive less in terms of compensation, and that’s at any level, whether that’s a teacher, or a paraprofessional, which we call ‘apprentices,’ or our office coordinators, or IT.”
Sarabia: “What about classroom size? Is that different than the CPS regular schools?”
Crooks: “To be honest, I think it’s around the same. I’m not entirely sure because I’ve never worked at a CPS school myself. I know that we have 32 kids, and I know that that’s one of our big negotiating points because studies show that smaller class sizes do actually provide greater opportunity for direct instruction, and with 32 kids, especially when you have students who are ELL, English Language Learners, they require a bit more direct support.”
Sarabia: “So what is the union asking for and what are the major sticking points do you think that actually led to this strike?”
Crooks: “That led to this strike? We were fighting to be ‘sanctuary schools’ for our students.”
Sarabia: “Explain that.”
Crooks: “So the day after Trump was elected and the day after he took office, we had several schools where students arrived crying to their teachers. Literally crying. Because they were so frightened because they didn’t know what was going to happen with immigration, and so many of our students and our families have different immigration statuses. We have people who have immigrated from different countries. We have people who may or may not be undocumented. I don’t know. I don’t ask.”
Sarabia: So, by being sanctuary schools, it would bar ICE officials from coming in? It would bar the school officials from cooperating with ICE?
Crooks: “To the extent legally possible. It would prevent them from voluntarily cooperating absent a warrant....And it would also stop the school from collecting information and giving that. And they already have that policy. We’re just looking to enshrine it in the contract. We’re also fighting for equal work for equal pay. We’re fighting for smaller class sizes, and we’re also fighting for more supports for our students who have special needs.”
Tony Sarabia: “The sanctuary schools that they want enshrined in the contract. Where do officials stand on that?”
Helena Stangle: “Sure. Well, I’m happy to share that since February of 2017, we actually worked collaboratively with many of the individuals that are at the bargaining table to work toward further codifying, memorializing our policy around sanctuary schools. I know Andy mentioned last summer our policy and work around this did have to do with a response to so many of the concerns that our parents and families have. And we have a dedicated staff that works with these parents and families on a regular basis, and they were looking to understand more specifically what Acero would do in the event that ICE or other officials were to come to our schools seeking information. We very much follow those policies that are outlined in FERPA (The Family Educational And Privacy Act of 1974) unless individuals come with very specific legal documents requiring us to provide them entrance into our buildings, we not going to and that would apply to anyone. We protect our kids. We protect our families, and we’re dedicated to continue doing that work.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.
LEARN MORE: First-ever charter school strike in nation begins as Acero teachers walk out (Chicago Sun-Times 11/4/18)
Nation’s First Teachers’ Strike at Charter Network Begins in Chicago (New York Times 11/4/18)
'Second tier': Chicago charter school teachers plan to walk out in first major strike (The Guardian 11/3/18)