The school year hasn’t begun, but Chicago Public School students are already protesting a change in starting times at over 80 schools that will be put into place for this school year.
Mary Ann Ahern, reporting for NBC Chicago, says the explanation offered by CPS is saving money on transportation costs, but as the unhappy crowd in Daley Plaza this week showed, some people oppose the change.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his CPS team have plenty of work to do, and changing starting times is just one task on a long list of problems they have to handle. Other pressures include negotiating new teachers contracts and the possible necessity of further cuts in the second semester.
Most Chicago high schools have traditionally started at 8 a.m. and elementary schools have started at 7:30 a.m. The change will see starting times of 9 a.m. for high schools and 7:45 a.m. for lower schools.
“Think of the students who have to help their families economically. These students have jobs and will be affected by the time change,” one student protester said.
There is concern that attending after-school activities, such as practice for sports and help sessions, will become more complicated.
“How does CPS expect to have a program like that if we don’t have enough time to do our homework by the time we get home,” another protester said. “Or if you live in a bad neighborhood, you can possibly get hurt on the way home.”
The new CPS leadership team is made up of Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson and CEO Forrest Claypool, both of whom say they understand the concerns, but insist that the move to change start times is a necessary cost-cutting measure. According to the Chicago Teachers Union, Claypool, who has been a close assistant to two mayors, is not really the man in charge, but is instead beholden to Emanuel.
The schools’ financial problems are serious enough that Claypool has asked teachers to contribute 9% more to their pension funds, but even then he will need more help from lawmakers. With no assistance from state government, Claypool warns there could be layoffs.
CPS has more than a $1 billion operating deficit, and changing starting times at dozens of schools will save millions of much needed dollars, according to Karen Jordan of ABC Chicago. The time changes will also help to avoid making cuts in the classroom. But the crowd of CPS parents and students at Daley Plaza, staging the “Save Our Time” rally, wanted to let CPS officials know that a later school day would have a negative effect on students and families.
There were even parents who feared they could lose their jobs because they count on their older kids to be babysitters for their younger siblings.
“It’s not what we want to do. It’s not our choice but the other choice is to lay off teachers and increase class sizes, and we don’t believe that is an option,” Claypool said.
Meanwhile, CPS also plans to do away with 280 bus stops throughout Chicago, but explained that there would be measures taken to ensure that no students will have to walk through unsafe areas.