About 100 people attended a rally outside of Saucedo Academy to support suspended special education teacher Sarah Chambers April 18.
The rally was spearheaded by Chambers' students as well as former students, Saucedo parents, fellow teachers and community leaders.
Chambers told Windy City Times that she was unable to attend the rally because she is barred from being on any Chicago Public Schools property since the day after she received her suspension letter.
Iris Gervacio ( a former student who Chambers taught ) and Saucedo teacher Marlena Ceballos emceed the rally.
Gervacio ( now a sophomore in high school ) noted that, without Chambers' intervention, she never would have realized she needed extra help with reading to graduate from Saucedo. She said Chambers fought for her and other students so they could reach their potential and made sure they considered themselves like any other student at Saucedo.
Among the speakers were Illinois Safe Schools Alliance Policy and Advocacy Manager Rodrigo Anzures-Oyorzabal, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Access Living's Education Policy Analyst Rod Estvan, Telpochcalli Community Education Project ( TCEP ) Community Organizer Jackie Gongora and Saucedo students and parents.
Anzures-Oyorzabal noted the Alliance works for the inclusion of LGBTQ students in schools across Illinois.
"We were involved in the writing of the transgender and gender non-conforming student guidelines for Chicago Public Schools ( CPS ) both in 2014 and 2015 and work with CPS students on a regular basis," said Anzures-Oyorzabal. "We find it very disheartening that Sarah would be targeted and disciplined at a time when LGBTQ students should be supported and lifted up more than ever before. Sarah's been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ students including acting as a sponsor for [Saucedo's] GSA.
"Often, GSAs are one of the few safe environments available for LGBTQ students in their schools and this is even more necessary now at a time when their rights to access education is being targeted both at the national and state level. We ask that CPS reinstate Sarah to her position here at Saucedo so that she can continue advocating for LGBTQ and special education students and give them the education they deserve."
Garcia said he came to the rally to support Chambers and her students.
"I have known her to be an outstanding teacher here at Saucedo and that her kids adore her," said Garcia. "The kids she has taught previously think the world of her. She has also been very engaged with the parents, respectful of the community and outspoken as an activist with the Chicago Teachers Union as well as students with learning disabilities and those from the LGBTQ community. It is no coincidence in my mind that she is being singled out for being all of those things.
"We do not know exactly why CPS is moving to terminate her but we believe it is because of the high profile position she has here as one of our stellar leaders. We are confident that when her case is examined she will be reinstated here at Saucedo because this is where she belongs."
Estvan explained that Access Living is the largest disability rights organization in the Chicago.
"We want Sarah reinstated immediately," said Estvan. "We have worked with Sarah for years on the rights of students with disabilities. We believe she is being targeted because she has been an effective leader on behalf of special education students and has defended their rights to receive full services under federal law. We want her back in the classroom. What is upsetting to us is right now there is an empty seat where Sarah should be sitting. There is no one teaching these children except an unqualified substitute and we see this over and over again at CPS."
Gongora explained that TCEP attended the rally to support the special education program at Saucedo.
"The administrators of the money that the parents contribute by paying taxes want to remove more and more from the children that require special education resources even though the laws prohibit this very thing," said Gongora. "Not only are there fewer resources but CPS also wants to get rid of people like Sarah who fight for or dare to protest CPS' bad decisions that run over not only a group of children, but a complete population.
"Apparently, public school children are not a good investment. They want to minimize teaching and thereby leave them at the mercy of the streets. We will continue to defend the rights of our children, their teachers, their future and their professional development for as long as we have too. We are united in heart with pride, respect and social justice."
Gervacio's mother, Luisa Lagunas, and another parent, Ines Figueroa, spoke with Windy City Times following the official remarks.
"Ms. Chambers is one of the best teachers and has helped me so much with my kids," said Lagunas. "She was the one who noticed that my daughter and son needed extra help in the classroom and she should be reinstated."
Figueroa ( who has a daughter in Chambers' class ) explained that the administration never notified the parents of Chambers suspension. She said she is both sad and angry. Figueroa said her daughter is devastated by what has happened to Chambers and worries how this will affect her as she moves on to high school.
Rally attendees chanted slogans calling for Chambers' reinstatement and marched in front of the school following the speakers remarks.
When Windy City Times contacted Saucedo Academy administrators about Chambers suspension, they had no comment and directed all queries to CPS' communications department.
CPS Chief Officer of Strategic Planning and Communications Emily Bittner told Windy City Times that they had nothing to add to their original statement: "Ms. Chambers engaged in misconduct that created cause to move to dismiss her."
For more on this story, see www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Queer-special-ed-teacher-suspended-indefinitely/58802.html .