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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Lawsuit filed in support of suspended CPS teacher Chambers
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2017-07-19

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In the two months since suspended Chicago Public School ( CPS ) special-education teacher Sarah Chambers' supporters held a Twitter storm with the #LetSarahTeach hashtag, she has gotten more and more support from students, parents, fellow teachers, community leaders and elected officials—including legal backing, in the form of a lawsuit.

Despite this support, CPS is still pushing for her termination; however, Chambers is fighting back against these charges on a variety of fronts, including legal action. Since Chambers is a tenured teacher, the matter has to go before a hearing officer from the Illinois State Board of Education ( ISBE ) and she cannot be terminated before the hearing officer's decision. That hearing date has not been set.

"On July 7, Chambers and the Chicago Teachers Union ( CTU ) filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education alleging that its attempt to terminate her is in retaliation for her First Amendment-protected complaints about cuts to special education and for her repeatedly pointing out how the Board is breaking special education law," said Chambers' lawyer, Josiah Groff. "She also filed a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, asking it to investigate whether the Board's attempt to terminate her is because of her sexual orientation."

CTU also held a press conference July 7 announcing the lawsuit with CTU President Karen Lewis, Chambers, Groff, special education advocate and Access Living Education Policy Analyst Rod Estvan, former Saucedo Elementary School parent Angie Chavero and former Saucedo student Javonnie Garner in attendance.

Among the many people calling for Chambers' reinstatement are 28 aldermen, including Vice-Mayor Brendan Reilly and Alds. Tom Tunney, James Cappleman, Deb Mel, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Raymond Lopez, Patrick O'Connor, Ameya Pawar, Joe Moreno, Roderick Sawyer, Susan Sadlowski Garza, George Cardenas, Toni Foulkes, Ricardo Munoz, Michael Zalewski, Daniel Solis, Roberto Maldonado, Jason Ervin, Chris Taliaferro, Scott Waguespack, Gilbert Villegas, Emma Mitts, Nicholas Sposato, Margaret Laurino, Anthony Napolitano, John Arena, Harry Osterman and Debra Silverstein.

"Her passionate defense of special needs students should be encouraged, not diminished," said Reilly in his statement.

O'Connor, chair of the Chicago City Council Education Committee, noted in his statement the tense relationship between CTU and CPS over the past few years.

"Would not an olive branch in this situation [of Chambers suspension] be something to consider?," said O'Connor. "The children she educates and advocates for would get a champion back at their school, the Board would return a great teacher and role model to the classroom and some of our critics and supporters would appreciate the wisdom of such a decision."

LGBT Caucus members Tunney, Capplema, Mell, Ramirez-Rosa and Lopez explained in their statements that schools need more teachers like Chambers who support affirming and safe environments for LGBTQ youth.

State Reps. Greg Harris, Kelly Cassidy and Silvana Tabares have also written letters calling for Chambers' reinstatement.

In their joint statement, Harris and Cassidy said, "[Sarah has] received distinguished ratings from all her previous administrators. We believe that it would be a blow to both the special needs students she has served so well and the kids who have few other openly LGBTQ+ people in their community to look up to if they lost her. The importance of transparency and community engagement is paramount. Ms. Chambers' suspension has caused an uproar in the neighborhood. We ask that you be responsive and open to the community's frustration on this issue. The inscrutable nature of the suspension, given her otherwise sterling record of advocacy and instruction, is concerning.

"As two openly LGBTQ+ elected officials who have spent their careers fighting for equality, we are keenly aware of the long history in our community of job discrimination. We make no accusations, as we do not have enough of the facts to fully understand the situation, but that is exactly the problem. Transparency is crucial in situations that garner such wide public interest."

On May 9, a number of educators and activists published an open letter in support of Chambers reinstatement https://iamaneducator.com/2017/05/09/we-stand-in-solidarity-with-sarah-chambers-and-the-education-justice-movement/.

AFT President Randi Weingarten tweeted June 10, "It's outrageous that CPS would fire @Sarah4Justice. Retaliation against activists is unacceptable. #LetSarahTeach."

After the Pride Parade, activists held a call-in day to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to reinstate Chambers.

"I would appreciate it if people kept calling Emanuel's office to reinstate me," said Chambers. "His number is 312-744-3300 or 312-744-9500."

For more on this story, see www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Queer-special-ed-teacher-suspended-indefinitely/58802.html, www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Little-Village-community-members-hold-rally-for-suspended-teacher/58904.html and www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Social-media-campaign-launched-supporting-suspended-Saucedo-teacher/59184.html .


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