About 200 students at Roosevelt High School in the Chicago Public School District walked out of classes on Monday in support of their teachers and staff who had been laid off.
Rosa Paretes, a 16-year-old junior and student organizer, said the walkout was because of budget cuts of over $1 million at her school alone. Maudlyne Ihejirika of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the students chanted "S.O.S. – Save our schools!" "If you care, then be fair!" "The less you invest, the more we protest!"
Another student organizer, junior Shirley Hernandez, said that fewer teachers means less individual attention, and the students do not deserve that.
Students from Roosevelt were joined by students from Schurz High School and Foreman High School, who had planned walkouts at their schools but were interrupted by heavy police and CPS security presence. However, all went as planned at Roosevelt, with police interfering only to keep students out of the street and on the sidewalks. But Principal Pilar Vazquez-Vialva warned of the student action in a robo-call to parents and teachers Sunday evening.
"While activism and political consciousness are a great thing to foster in our students, I must be clear to students and staff alike that a walkout can lead to dangerous and negative outcomes," Vazquez-Vialva wrote. "We are legally liable for all of our students for the entire school day. For this reason, leaving the school during the school day is very serious and not okay."
Students met with CPS officials who said a walkout was not the solution and who encouraged students to take their activism to the state lawmakers, "where CPS is fighting for pension equity and for the state to prioritize education funding so that we are no longer last in the nation."
Last month, 95 teachers and 57 staff members found themselves laid off because of budget adjustments based on lower than expected enrollment at some schools. In years past, CPS took up the slack when enrollment lagged, but this year it took away funding. At Roosevelt that meant four teachers and two support staff employees were relieved of their positions because of enrollment that was down 183 students from last year.
Tim Meegan, a civics teacher at Roosevelt, said:
"But this is what democracy is really all about. This is their school. It's a neighborhood school. It belongs to the parents and their children. We need to give our students more credit. They know exactly what they're out here for, and they've conducted themselves in a manner I'm proud of."
Rayshawne Burns, an 18-year-old senior at Foreman explained that three years ago he was assigned a mentor and that action allowed him to finally have a stable support system. He said that having his mentor taken away because of budget problems says to him that CPS is not "thinking about students."
WLS-TV Chicago reports that students are worried about class size at Roosevelt.
"We have some small, decent-sized classes, and if more people are added to them, not enough students are going to get the attention they need," Louis Laguins, senior, said.
Meegan added that until the entire school is reprogrammed, there will be substitutes teaching day-to-day in the classes where teachers have been laid off. A CPS spokeswoman said there were five teachers and four support staff members laid off at Foreman High School out of 91 teachers and 40 support staff workers.
At Schurz, one teacher and two support staffers, out of 150 teachers and 58 support staff employees were laid off, reports Dorothy Tucker for CBS News Chicago. When CPS officials explained that the district is $480 million in the hole, it seemed to be little comfort to students.