By Aziza Nassar
May 31- A week after the teachers and staff at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy (YCLA) received a letter notifying them that the school be closed or restructured, they held a press conference with parents, students, and supporters before the school’s Board meeting to urge the Board to reject this decision.
Just two days before receiving the letter, the staff at the alternative high school in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood informed their employer of their decision to form a union. Teachers and staff made this decision in order to have a voice in their school. YCLA is a charter school, and one of the twenty-two campuses that Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) manages. As a charter, the teachers are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, and previous to their vote, had no union representation.
A complaint was filed on May 25th by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers (or Chicago ACTS), who strongly turned out other charter school teachers with signs and messages of support Thursday night despite the rain and chilly weather. Arise Chicago’s Board member, John Thomas, spoke at the press conference, expressing Arise Chicago’s solidarity and the moral support of the religious community.
Inside the board meeting, teachers, students, and family members showed their concern about closing down the school. Fifteen year old Jameel Marshall, a student at YCLA said, “By shutting down our school, they’re taking away our education—leaving no where for us to go but out in the street and forcing us to do bad things.”
For many students, YCLA is their home away from home. The students and their education are the main priority for the dedicated YLCA teachers. Nicole Durham, a YLCA graduate and current teacher said, “We felt the need to unionize because we want to have a stable body of qualified teachers.”
A grandmother of a current YLCA student addressed the board pleading with them not to close the school. She said the school and its staff had been extremely supportive of her grandchild, and recognized that his success was due to dedicated teachers., “I’ve seen these teachers here until 7:30, 8:30 at night! They care about these kids.”
At the end of the meeting the Board elected not to take action to close the school or take any other action at the time. Chicago ACTS ,the union whom the YCLA staff elected to join, found this as a positive action, in conjunction with the positive statements from the Board expressing no desire to close the school. According to a press advisory from the union:
”YCCS was correct in stepping away from a hasty decision to close or restructure the campus, an action that YCLA staff believe would have harmed YCLA students and staff and would have been motivated by the staff’s recent decision to unionize.”
Therefore, Chicago ACTS decided to ask the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board “to hold in abeyance the unfair labor practice charge which ACTS had filed on May 25.” That charge had been made after YCCS told YLCA teachers and staff (via overnight mail) that they were recommending closing or restructuring the school.
While some left the Board meeting feeling uncertain about the school’s future, by the next day, YLCA teachers, staff and Chicago ACTS felt confident they could move forward to keep the school open and work toward achieving stability and respect in the school for all students and staff.
-Aziza is the Zakat Intern at Arise Chicago