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Chicago Teachers Fought For Support Staff And Restorative Justice In Schools

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Chicago teachers fought for support staff and restorative justice in schools

  • San Francisco police brutality claim puts pressure on next DA to hold cops accountable

  • Arizona prosecutor commissions report that argues against leniency for teens who commit crimes

  • San Francisco DA race is “wide open” before tomorrow’s election

  • Federal prosecutors want no mention of Trump in second trial for humanitarian volunteer

In the Spotlight

Chicago teachers fought for support staff and restorative justice in schools

On Friday, Chicago teachers and staff returned to school after an 11-day walkout, the longest teachers’ strike in three decades in the city. It had been seven years since the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike that helped spark a wave of actions around the country, in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona—and more recently in Los Angeles and Oakland, California—and contributed to the formation of a network known as “Bargaining for the Common Good.”

Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University, told Rebecca Burns for In These Times that “in many ways this was both the toughest and most visionary strike fought yet” using the principles of bargaining for the common good.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s demands went beyond salary raises and improved benefits, although those were sought and won. The union, fundamentally, sought greater investment in and protections for students and staff, at school and in the community. These included sanctuary for undocumented students and staff on campus; more mental health staff, nurses, counselors, and librarians; reduced class sizes; and even affordable housing.

The strike ended after the teachers and staff won many, but not all, of their demands. As Burns wrote: “While the union didn’t win on housing assistance for new teachers or gain the school district’s support for rent control, one of CTU’s earliest and clearest victories was an agreement to hire staff specifically to support the more than 17,000 homeless students in Chicago Public Schools—an approach that could be a model for other school districts.”

The union also won a commitment to bilingual education and a guarantee that Chicago public schools will be sanctuary spaces for undocumented students and staff—significant victories in a school district where nearly half of all students are Latinx. Burns reports that “the school district will create a training program for staff on how to respond to ICE presence in schools and assist immigrant students” and will allocate up to $200,000 each year to assist employees with immigration issues.

The teachers union fought long and hard on the issue of increased support staff. As one teacher told the Washington Post, describing her students’ unmet needs: “Every day we go to work, the stress level is sky-high. The kids are not ready to learn, they suffer a great deal of trauma, they are hungry and tired. I can’t do every job.”

Under the agreement reached last week, the district will, over a five-year period, guarantee nurses and social workers in every school. With respect to other support staff, including librarians, counselors, and restorative justice coordinators, “the agreement creates a joint union-school district committee on ‘staffing equity’ that will provide a path—but not a guarantee—for high-need schools to hire” the staff, writes Burns.

The union’s inclusion of restorative justice coordinators in the support staff being sought is noteworthy. In Chicago, as around the country, students of color and students with disabilities have borne the brunt of harsh school disciplinary measures. The consequences for students’ involvement in the criminal legal system have been clear, particularly as school districts increasingly bring police officers onto campus.

Chicago’s policing problems, which eventually led to a federal consent decree this year, have not spared its schools. In January, two police officers dragged a 16-year old high school student, Dnigma Howard, down a flight of stairs, and then punched her in the face and used a stun gun on her. Until video footage contradicting their claims was released by media outlets, the officers insisted that the student, who did admit to biting one officer, had initiated the altercation. The teenager was initially charged in juvenile court with felony counts of aggravated battery. The charges were eventually dropped by the Cook County’s state’s attorney’s office “in the interest of justice.” The teenager is now suing the city and the school district for violations of her civil rights. She is also suing for the release of body camera footage from the officers involved.

The officers were summoned when Dnigma, who has special needs, was  using her cell phone in class. A school security guard refused to allow her to see an administrator or a counselor, in violation of her Individualized Education Plan (contracts between students eligible for special education services and school districts).

The 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report that documented the Chicago police’s systematic abuse and violence against residents included an alarmingly similar incident, in which officers used a baton and a stun gun on a 16-year-old girl after being summoned over her use of a cell phone.

In 2016, in a review of 2013-14 civil rights data and research on educational inequities, a White House report detailed the way disparities in the use of harsh discipline measures in schools went hand-in-hand with a lack of funding for support staff and services for students. Combined, students of color “are between roughly 20 and 40 percent more likely to be one of the 1.6 million students who attend a school where there is a school law enforcement officer but no guidance counselor.”

And the two are linked, the report noted: “Research suggests that discipline problems could be compounded when resources are diverted from guidance counselors, whose presence helps to reduce disciplinary incidents and also to raise academic achievement.”

This year in Chicago, just months before teachers went on strike to fight for support staff for their students, the school board approved $33 million for school-based police officers.

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

San Francisco Police Brutality Claim Puts Pressure on Next DA to Hold Cops Accountable. Ahead of the city’s district attorney election on Tuesday, the alleged baton beating last month of Dacari Spiers has renewed debate over police accountability. [Darwin BondGraham]

Arizona Prosecutor Commissions Report That Argues Against Leniency for Teens Who Commit Crimes. Report attempts to discredit decades of research on the adolescent mind. [Kira Lerner]

Stories From Around the Country

San Francisco DA race is “wide open” before tomorrow’s election: Tomorrow in San Francisco, voters are predicted to re-elect Mayor London Breed, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. But the district attorney race “appears to be wide open.” There are four contenders—Chesa Boudin, Leif Dautch, Suzy Loftus, and Nancy Tung— and Breed cannot count on support for a law enforcement-approach to addressing homelessness. Boudin, a public defender running on a progressive platform, “has made it clear that he will not criminalize the homeless by prosecuting quality-of-life crimes like public camping, prostitution and public urination.” Breed appointed Loftus, a former Police Commission president, as interim DA when George Gascón resigned to run for DA in Los Angeles. The move “met with significant blowback by critics who saw the appointment as machine politics.” [Phil Matier / San Francisco Chronicle] Voters in a number of jurisdictions will elect a new chief prosecutor tomorrow. Daniel Nichanian covered the elections, and what is at stake, in The Appeal: Political Report.

Federal prosecutors want no mention of Trump in second trial for humanitarian volunteer: In June, the trial against Scott Warren, a volunteer with the humanitarian group No More Deaths ended in a hung jury. Federal prosecutors had brought felony charges against Warren for the aid he offered migrants crossing a deadly stretch of Arizona desert. After their failure to secure a conviction, prosecutors refused to drop the case and Warren will go on trial for a second time next week. The prosecution is now seeking a ruling that would bar Warren from mentioning President Trump during the trial, arguing that it would be irrelevant and unfairly influence the jury, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Warren’s lawyers say such a ruling would violate his constitutional rights, including his right to free speech—and point out that it was only the prosecution that mentioned Trump during the first trial. A spokesperson for No More Deaths said jurors should be allowed to consider how Warren’s case is part of a pattern of prosecuting immigrants’ rights activists by the Trump administration. [Alex Devoid / Arizona Daily Star]

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