Police bullying on the picket line

February 8, 2019

Striking teachers and education workers at four CICS charter schools in Chicago are ending their first week on the picket line in only the third charter strike in U.S. history. One of management’s low points during the week occurred at the South Side Wrightwood campus, where police were called in to harass teachers. Shaquana Pickens, a picket captain and paraprofessional, talked to Paul D’Amato about what happened when the cops showed up — and what the CICS educators are fighting for.

TELL US your name and why you’re on strike.

MY NAME is Shaquana Pickens. I currently work at Wrightwood Elementary under the CICS, and I’m a paraprofessional.

I’m fighting for my students. I’m assigned to one student — it’s supposed to be one-on-one. Currently we are short-staffed. Each classroom doesn’t have two adults in there. So on a typical day for me, I go through three classrooms.

I often have to leave my student alone in the room, which isn’t supposed to be occurring at all. He’s a nonverbal student, and he needs my attention. Sometimes I’m disappointed to come into the room and find out he had to use the bathroom by himself, and he can’t speak and ask someone to help him go to the washroom.

Shaquana Pickens
Shaquana Pickens (Paul D’Amato | SW)

We’re fighting for smaller class sizes. I’m finding that they use the special ed people, the paraprofessionals, to deal with kids with behavioral issues. A lot of times, they want me to take students out of the classroom, try to reset them and go back, and it’s a disservice to my child.

I feel like he could be a lot further along this year if I was able to spend the time with him that he needs.

SO YOU need more staff and more special education people.

YES, we need resources. We’re just understaffed, and I don’t understand why when they have the money. They have $36 million in reserve. We just found out recently that they’re starting to move money around — they’re investing it and donating it to charities, which is crazy to me.

Since I’ve been here at the school, which will be two years next week, some of the toilets don’t flush in the washrooms. We’re missing doors in the washroom stalls, and so some of the washrooms can’t even be used. This shouldn’t be, because they have the money.

We don’t have a gym. We don’t have an art department. We don’t have an art teacher. We don’t have a computer lab. We don’t have a library.

I HEARD that more than half of the $36 million in reserve was placed in an investment firm run by CICS co-founder and former board member Craig Henderson.

YES, THERE’S definitely some shady business going on. That’s why we picketed downtown yesterday, to target his office. They’re moving money around so they can say, “We don’t have $36 million.”

Yesterday, we were disappointed because management called the police to stop us from talking to our parents and talking about these key issues.

WHAT HAPPENED?

WE WERE told that we couldn’t use the bullhorn, and if we use it again, they’ll take it from us. We were told that if we continue to talk to parents, if we stopped to talk to them, we could be arrested.

There were seven police cars out here for a bunch of teachers. There was bullying involved and intimidation. A lot of workers wanted to just stop picketing altogether because they were intimidated.

THEY DIDN’T do this at other striking schools.

DEFINITELY NOT. That’s one of the things we thought about afterward. I’m a strike captain, and we always talk to each other afterwards to see how things are going at all the schools.

I’m finding out that the schools on the North Side are getting treated fairly — they’re getting much better treatment. But the schools on the South Side are having a hard time. We’re getting stopped by the police, and we’re getting intimidated. It doesn’t make sense. You’ve got to ask yourself: why? Why is the South Side being treated worse than the North Side?

IT SEEMS like a racist double standard.

YES, ABSOLUTELY.

Wrightwood is an elementary school. It holds 786 students, and that’s another concern. Who’s watching the students? Right now, we don’t even have a substitute company for teachers because it backed out due to the negative press.

They’re saying that administration is watching the students. Not possible. You don’t have enough staff.

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