Why comprehensively safe schools are necessary for Chicago: a response to the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board (Episode 2)

4 mins read
Chicago teachers and staff march downtown Chicago on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo Credit: U. Knudson

Note for Readers: This piece is in response to an ongoing miniseries by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board on “Why a teachers strike is bad for Chicago.” I am a CPS teacher and I write these responses to correct perceptions that the Chicago Tribune aims to perpetuate about the Chicago Teachers Union and the strike.

In Episode 2, the Editorial Board focuses on safety, claiming that a strike puts at-risk children in imminent danger because they are not in school.

Of course we can all agree that school should be a safe place for students. But when teachers talk about “safe schools”, we think more broadly than the regressive definition that the Editorial Board seems to be using, which is apparently “away from imminent physical danger.” As educators, we know this is a very low bar for safe schools. We know that safe schools actually mean that we’re providing our students with emotional supports when they experience hard times in or out of school, like bullying, the death of a friend or loved one, or violence and/or abuse.

We know that in order for our students to grow up to be happy and healthy adults who contribute positively to society, we need to teach them how to healthfully process difficult events in their lives.

Many CPS teachers are beginning to teach social-and-emotional learning (SEL) skills explicitly in class through talking circles, the use of restorative practices, and explicit instruction (“What does it mean to persevere?”) but this is not enough for students who have faced significant and repeated trauma in their lives — the very students the Tribune refers to in this editorial.

These students need the help of school psychologists, counselors, and social workers to help them healthfully process trauma, and the bottom line is this: those providers are overworked, sparsely distributed and cannot possibly provide effective services to every student who desperately needs it.

This is not a socialistic handout to low-income students; this is a long-term investment in the health of a society that we all live in. Teachers are advocating for a city where students have opportunities to pursue their passions and to contribute positively to their communities.

The Tribune’s regressive stance on what constitutes student safety is shocking at a time when, to quote their own editorial, “As of Oct. 13, Chicago had registered 403 killings, 1,690 criminal sexual assaults and 6,166 robberies in 2019, according to Chicago Police Department statistics”.

Their stance is shocking because systemic and perpetuated violence doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens because of systemic disinvestment, scarcity of resources, and lack of opportunity over generations. The CTU is advocating for a long-overdue change in the way that we allocate resources in this city. If students and schools are fully resourced, within a generation, we can expect to see positive changes in other areas the city is currently managing with a reactive approach.

Let’s prioritize comprehensively safe schools so when the strike is settled, we can have confidence that it’s not just our children who are safe — it’s their future, too.

Originally posted on Medium. Re-posted with permission.

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