Iron public protest: CPS schools urged to save jobs for teachers facing dismissal after environmental activism

The Chicago Public Schools Board rejected a district recommendation to fire two teachers who encouraged students to protest the planned transfer of public rail car shredding to their community on the South East Side.

The Board of Directors unanimously decided Wednesday that George Washington High School teachers Lauren Bianchi and Chuck Stark should receive warnings and must approve training related to district rules.

Both teachers were outspoken opponents of General Iron who moved from Lincoln Park to East 116th Street along the Calumet River, a location just over half a mile from the school where they taught. School students participated in a number of demonstrations.

In addition to numerous rallies and demonstrations, Stark participated in a hunger strike and Bianchi was arrested at a protest outside the home of a city official.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration ultimately refused a permit to work in February. Last week, federal officials investigated the matter over the past two years city ​​charged To practice racial discrimination in zoning and land use policies.

Chicago Public Schools recommended that the two be dismissed due to “recurrent instances of misjudgment and bias in their teaching roles and in their roles as faculty advisors.” A report of more than 400 pages identified the allegations, although this document has not been made public.

Chicago teachers union officials say Bianchi and Stark were targeted by Lightfoot to embarrass her.

“Let me be clear — this is revenge,” CTU President Stacey Davis Gates said at a teacher support rally on Monday. “This is revenge because we have two teachers who have stood by their students, families and communities to challenge racism.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Lightfoot said: “Today the Board of Directors considered a matter relating to allegations of serious violations of the rules and issued a decision. This matter is now closed.”

Several Southeast Side School and community representatives spoke during the board meeting in favor of teacher retention. Both studied at George Washington for four years.

Donald Davis, a veteran educator at George Washington University, told the board that Bianchi and Stark are the school’s “prominent teachers,” and said he believed they were “unfairly targeted.”

Marcelina Pedraza, a community member and parent, told the board that Stark and Bianchi “are amazing teachers and our community is lucky to have them.”

A former student has credited teachers for helping her get into Northwestern University as a freshman this fall on a full scholarship.

“They were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” said Trinity Colon, who recently graduated from George Washington University and has been involved in protests against shredders. “If the board really cared about the young Black and Brown, they wouldn’t fire teachers who did nothing more than love and protect the students.”


Trinity Colon, a former George Washington High School student, has urged the Chicago Board of Education to save two teacher jobs targeted by environmental protests.

Both Bianchi and Stark were told on Tuesday that CPS was recommending their separation. Both described their work with students as “culturally relevant education” supported by the school district.

“I am overwhelmed with joy,” Bianchi said after the council vote. “This has been a scary 24 hours.”

“All the evidence showed we did nothing wrong,” Stark said, adding that he was looking forward to returning to George Washington for the start of the new school year next month.

In closing remarks, Chicago Board of Education President Miguel Del Valle said, “This board believes in culturally relevant education and is a core value of CPS.”

“We will continue to support all of our teachers who promote education that is appropriate and sensitive to our students’ environments and the general condition of their communities. In no way do we want to walk away from this commitment,” added Del Valle.

CPS school officials said in a statement after the vote that they hope the warnings “will not only address the behavior of these teachers, but ensure that the promotion of civic engagement among school communities is done appropriately and with due regard to student safety.”

Brett Chase’s environmental and public health report was made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.