Outraged by the layoffs of more than 440 teachers and support staff, Chicago Teachers Union officials on Monday questioned why the city was cutting jobs in underserved communities during the pandemic, as nearly $2 billion in federal education funds were awarded to Chicago Public Schools.
"The mayor continues to be a walking contradiction through her actions, and a classic example of how symbolic gestures ring hollow," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Monday in a statement.
"On Friday, she declared racism to be a public health crisis in many Chicago communities disproportionately burdened with poverty, unemployment, housing insecurity and violence. Today, she's destabilizing those same communities by laying off educators at neighborhood schools," Sharkey said.
The highest number of the 443 layoffs by ZIP code, said Sharkey, were in North Lawndale and Little Village, which were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infection and death.
In a Friday statement, CPS officials described the layoffs as part of its annual staff adjustment and hiring process ahead of next school year.
CPS spokesman James Gherardi said schools will be hiring for more than 2,000 open teaching and staff positions for the 2021-22 school year, "which far exceeds the number of teachers and staff impacted."
School clerk Deanna Myron, who publicly spoke about the need to accommodate educators with medically vulnerable household members got a pink slip as well as teacher assistant Willie Cousins, said Sharkey. He said Cousins, who works at Carrie Jacobs Bond Elementary School in Englewood, was one of the most active (paraprofessional) leaders during the 2019 strike.
Reached by phone Monday, Cousins said he learned his job was being eliminated in an email he received Friday night.
A father of two sons, ages 10 and 3, Cousins, 35, said he believes he was targeted by CPS because of being one of the most active union leaders helping to negotiate a contract for paraprofessionals and other employees during the 2019 strike.
"They did not give me any notification, or any reason ... it was just a generic letter," said Cousins, who says many of his students are already struggling after losing family members during the pandemic.
"For the past six years, I've worked with many families at the school who have come to trust me and the teacher I work with. They don't know yet that I won't be back in the fall, but when they find out, it will be a big hit to the community," Cousins said.
Gherardi said the district expects many of the impacted staff to be hired for other positions within CPS, and that the district will host virtual hiring events in the coming weeks.
In previous years, "roughly two-thirds of impacted teachers quickly found new full-time CPS jobs," CPS officials said.
Fifty-nine of the teachers being laid off were hired into temporary, centrally-funded COVID-19 support roles assigned to schools with difficulty covering in-person student instruction due to the pandemic. "These teachers accepted these one-year roles when hired," according to the statement.
Each year, CPS schools "conduct annual staffing changes to fit the needs of their school communities due to factors including declining enrollment, changing student demographics, and programmatic changes," CPS officials said.
If a school needs an additional bilingual teacher, for example, they may close a position to open a bilingual teaching position in order to serve their student population, the statement said.
Sixty-five percent — 336 district-run schools — "have no teacher impacts, and 87% of all CPS schools have one or no teacher impacts," CPS officials said.
Impacted tenured teachers will receive full pay and benefits through next school year and nontenured teachers will be offered a substitute teaching position, officials said.
"Of the 286 teachers impacted last year (2020), 72% were rehired in full-time CPS positions. An additional 6% of impacted teachers came back as substitute teachers," officials said, adding that, "hundreds of new support staff roles were opened."
Nevertheless, Sharkey said the union plans to fight the layoffs with, "long-standing contractual rights that protect laid-off members," including paraprofessionals such as Cousins.
"We will vigorously oppose every layoff, including those that are retaliatory," Sharkey said, urging those who received a layoff notice to take steps to begin the legal and grievance process.
"Our students need more support today, not less, as hundreds of thousands of working-class Chicago families continue to struggle to recover from the consequences of the pandemic," Sharkey said.