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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Avondale Shop Owners Letting Teachers Work Outside Their Businesses To Protest CPS Reopening

"I just want to help out and make sure the teachers' concerns are being heard," one business owner said.

(left) Lynn Fosbender, owner of plant shop Rooted, by Pollen at 2918 N. Milwaukee Ave., is one of several business owners along Avondale's Milwaukee Avenue who have agreed to let teachers work outside of their businesses Tuesday. (right) Brentano Elementary teachers working outside in protest earlier this month.
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AVONDALE — More than a dozen Chicago Public Schools teachers plan to set up desks and work outside businesses along Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue on Thursday in protest of the district’s reopening plan.

Teachers will work outside on the sidewalk 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Several local business owners in the 2800 and 2900 blocks of North Milwaukee Avenue have agreed to lend folding tables and chairs and share their wifi in a show of solidarity, organizers said.

Most of the reopening protests thus far have been held on school grounds, though teachers brought their frustrations to the doorstep of Miguel del Valle, Chicago Board of Education president, in Belmont Cragin last week.

Avondale business owners said it’s important the district knows protesting teachers don’t just have the support of other teachers and elected officials — they have the backing of business owners and community stakeholders.

“I just want to help out and make sure the teachers’ concerns are being heard,” said Lynn Fosbender, owner of plant shop Rooted, by Pollen at 2918 N. Milwaukee Ave. “This is just a small way I can contribute to that.”

Christa Clumpner, founder and co-executive director of Monarch Thrift Shop at 2866 N. Milwaukee Ave., also signed on for the protest. Clumpner said she has friends who are CPS teachers and jumped at the opportunity to help out teachers who feel it’s not safe to return to the classroom with the city continuing to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many voices speak louder than individual voices,” Clumpner said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
After CPS locked teachers out of their virtual classrooms for not returning to classrooms, educators gathered outside Board of Education President Miguel del Valle’s home in Belmont Cragin on January 13, 2021. Teachers say fear for their health as coronavirus continues to spread.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have battled with Chicago Teachers Union leaders about how and when to reopen schools for in-person learning.

Jackson and Lightfoot have insisted some in-person learning is safe and it is critical to ensure the option is available to families who want it. Union leaders say the rate of coronavirus infection is still too high and it endangers students, staff and their families.

That battle intensified in recent days. Some teachers have refused to return to in-person learning. In response, district officials locked out teachers from their virtual classrooms and district email. As of last week, dozens of teachers who have not reported to their buildings as required were designated “absent without leave” and were not being paid.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are being reported at some schools.

At McCutcheon Elementary in Uptown, five staff members, including McCutcheon’s principal and assistant principal, are in quarantine following a teacher’s confirmed coronavirus case. CTU officials said at least 10 workers are in quarantine at Beard Elementary in Jefferson Park.

One Northwest Side teacher who is planning to teach outside of an Avondale business Thursday said she taught with a mask on last week to prepare to return to the classroom later this month. She’s expected back during the second phase of reopening, on Jan. 25.

The teacher, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said the trial period has not gone well. Her high-needs students can’t see her mouth move so they get confused, she said.

“On the first day I did it, I cried through my entire lunch,” she said. “I have no idea how I’m going to instruct the kids in the way they need instruction in this setting.”

Thursday’s protest is designed to put more pressure on the district to do “what’s right” and delay its reopening plan, she said, even as Jackson said Friday she felt confident in the reopening and the district it forging forward.

Holding the protest away from school grounds is an intentional move, the teacher said. It’s a way to make it clear they’re speaking out against the district — not the principals and administrators who “have been doing everything in their power to be supportive and provide safety and encouragement every step of the way.”

The teachers chose to unite with local business owners given the important role neighborhood schools play in their communities.

“We teach with support of local businesses along Milwaukee because this action is about protecting and supporting the community. Our students live and work in this community,” the Northwest Side teacher said in an email to other teachers.

“Our action is not a direct stance against our individual schools or administrators, but is in solidarity with teachers who have been cruelly barred from teaching their kids and in support of a truly safe plan to return to the buildings.”

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