On April 6, the day of her middle school's GSA dance, openly queer Saucedo Academy special education teacher Sarah Chambers received an email letter from Chicago Public Schools ( CPS ) telling her that she was suspended indefinitely, pending further action.
Speaking with Windy City Times, Chambers said the letter gave no reason for the suspension; however, later that day she said she was informed by Chicago Teachers Union ( CTU ) Vice President Jesse Sharkey of CPS's reason. Chambers explained that Sharkey was contacted by CPS Labor Relations Chief Joe Moriarty, who told him that her suspension was because of reasons related to the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers ( PARCC ) test.
When reached for comment, CPS Chief Officer of Strategic Planning and Communications Emily Bittner said, "Ms. Chambers engaged in misconduct that created cause to move to dismiss her."
Bittner explained that Chambers can present her case against dismissal to an independent Illinois State Board of Education ( ISBE ) hearing officer. She also said teachers must comply with ISBE and CPS board policy.
Chambers claims her suspension is not due to the PARCC test, but instead is a retaliation by CPS because of her CTU executive board leadership role, including being the co-chair of the Special Education Task Force, her advocacy for special education and LGBTQ students and because she has been Saucedo's 8th grade GSA faculty advisor for the past three years.
"I have been teaching at Saucedo since the day after I graduated eight years ago," said Chambers. "I love Saucedo. It is my home. I have taught multiple siblings in special education and I know the parents and the community very well. I'm also one of the only Spanish-speaking special education teachers in the whole school. This is also outrageous because I am a teacher with a distinguished rating and I have never been written up or disciplined in my entire teaching career."
Since creating the GSA, Chambers said that in addition to the successful GSA fundraising dance ( for the entire middle school ) on April 6, the club has gotten almost every classroom to post GLSEN rainbow triangles on their doors that say, "This is a safe and inclusive space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their allies."
Chambers noted they also have a GSA bulletin board in the school. She explained that the funds raised from this year's dance will go to an LGBTQ center in Chicago like they did last year.
"Last spring, we did a fundraiser to buy books with LGBTQ characters for the entire middle school and some K-3rd grade classes," said Chambers. "Our students in the GSA read the books aloud to the K-3rd classrooms."
Chambers explained that without her presence at Saucedo, the GSA could be canceled and if this were to occur every LGBTQ student at the school would be negatively affected. She noted that this is not the first time CPS and Saucedo administrators have gone after the GSA.
"Last month, our previous assistant principal, Nancy Quintana, illegally canceled the GSA until they received parent permission for the students to join the club, even though no other lunchtime clubs have parent permission slips," said Chambers. "Our GSA students and teachers fought back so the club would be reinstated and we won. We've created this beautiful supportive LGBTQ environment at Saucedo and CPS is trying to destroy that by removing me because I am the only openly LGBTQ teacher at the school and the GSA is a safe space for my students. My students always say, 'GSA is a family'."
Chambers said her removal from the school also leaves the majority of eighth-grade students without a special education teacher. According to Chambers, Saucedo has yet to fill two other special education teacher posts.
"Without me there, my special education students will be added to the other students who are not receiving help in their classes," said Chambers. "This could also affect their chances of graduation."
Chambers explained that the CTU has already taken steps to fight her removal from Saucedo.
"If CPS truly cared about LGBTQ and special education students, they would stop this witch hunt and return me to Saucedo immediately," said Chambers.
Chambers' supporters have asked people to sign this petition bit.ly/donotfiresarah and/or write a letter to both Janice Jackson CEDO-Jackson@cps.edu and Arnie Rivera firstname.lastname@example.org asking that she be reinstated at Saucedo.