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South Chicago, East Side

2 CPS Teachers Say They’re Being Fired In Retaliation For Their Activism Against General Iron

Chicago Public Schools officials said Chuck Stark and Lauren Bianchi showed "poor judgment and bias," offering students incentives to attend protests. The George Washington High School teachers called the allegations "bogus."

Chuck Stark, one of the hunger strikers, poses for a portrait as community members, leaders and activists gathered outside City Hall to call on Mayor Lightfoot to deny the permit to move General Iron to the Southeast Side on the 20th day of the hunger strike on Feb. 23, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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EAST SIDE — Two Southeast Side teachers could be fired this week, a move they say is payback for their activism against the city’s effort to help General Iron move its operations near their high school and for speaking out against conditions of the building.

CPS officials are seeking the termination of Lauren Bianchi and Chuck Stark, who teach at George Washington High School, 3535 E 114th St. in East Side. The Chicago Board of Education is slated to vote on the issue Wednesday.

One teacher was informed about the termination Tuesday, according to a letter from Chicago Public Schools that was reviewed by Block Club.

District officials will seek that teacher’s firing based on the results of an “investigatory conference” that occurred July 8, according to the letter.

Investigators found Bianchi and Stark disregarded safety rules alongside “repeated instances of poor judgment and bias” in their roles as teachers and faculty advisors, district spokesperson Sylvia Barragan said in a statement Tuesday.

“An investigation uncovered several significant policy violations by the teachers, including violation of safety policies concerning the transportation of students,” Barragan said. “Consequently, the Board of Education will consider at [Wednesday’s] board meeting whether their employment should continue.”

The investigation found, according to the district:

  • One teacher offered incentives for students to attend protests far from the school without the district’s knowledge, “with unknown chaperones and without ensuring parental knowledge or permission.”
  • One teacher offered credit for attending protests “that were important to the teacher, while not offering credit for other activities.”
  • One teacher disregarded volunteer protocol “by allowing individuals to participate in unsanctioned activities, including chaperoning and serving as guest speakers in classrooms.”
  • Both teachers “failed to follow student travel protocols with respect to a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts” for a symposium.

The teachers and Chicago Teachers Union leaders denied wrongdoing and blasted the potential firings as political retaliation by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who appoints Board of Education members.

Stark was one of three community members who went without food for a month in protest of General Iron’s plans to move its operations and most employees to Southside Recycling in East Side.

Bianchi, an advisor to George Washington’s environmental justice club, was also active in the campaign to deny Southside Recycling’s permit, participating in protests near the homes of Lightfoot and health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

Bianchi also said she’s been outspoken for better building conditions at George Washington, particularly after a ceiling partially collapsed and injured a security guard last month following a severe storm.

The district’s findings are “all pretextual” to Wednesday’s vote on firing the teachers, union vice president Jackson Potter said at a press conference Tuesday.

“The mayor made up her mind to fire Chuck and Lauren as soon as they engaged in First Amendment activities that targeted [Lightfoot] for making a decision that would harm their community,” Potter said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Community members, leaders and activists lay in the street in Logan Square to call on Mayor Lightfoot to deny the permit to move General Iron to the Southeast Side on the 30th day of the hunger strike on March 4, 2021.

Neither Bianchi nor Stark have transported students to protests, and teachers and students attended protests on their own time, Bianchi said.

CPS teachers “are trained and instructed to educate our students to participate in civic engagement,” and the investigation’s findings “really suggests that CPS is hypocritical,” Bianchi said.

“They want us to teach students to think critically … to become leaders that advocate for themselves and their families, but if they step on the mayor’s toes, they don’t want us to do that, apparently,” she said.

The charges are “bogus,” as Stark avoided “presenting opportunities to students that others didn’t,” he said.

“I did not offer extra credit for students to travel to any event, yet I am being accused of that,” Stark said. “I did not break any protocol in any of my instruction.”

Both Bianchi and Stark recently completed a four-year “probationary” period as new teachers and are eligible to receive tenure at the start of the next school year, they said.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Activists gathered March 4, 2021 in Logan Square to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deny a permit that would allow Southside Recycling to open in East Side.

The potential firings come a week after the feds found city leaders violated the civil rights of Black and Latino residents by systematically moving polluters into their neighborhoods, exemplified by the city’s efforts to help General Iron move from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side.

Following a nearly two-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined city officials “discriminated on the basis of race and national origin” as they clustered polluting industry in nonwhite communities, federal officials wrote last week to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Southeast Side environmental groups.

Lightfoot’s office denied any discrimination in its practices.

The union launched a petition Tuesday in support of keeping Bianchi and Stark in their jobs.

“At a time of attacks on educators from red states and Republican lawmakers for teaching the truth about our country’s history, it’s disgraceful that educators are targeted by the mayor for protecting their students and their school communities,” union members tweeted.

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