Even though Chicago Public Schools are trying to get students back to in-person learning as soon as possible, not all teachers are on board. Actually, a lot of educators aren’t on board. During a recent teacher’s union vote, 71% of Chicago teachers agreed it’s not safe to go back.
Yet, the district is still working to mandate the return of more than 10,000 staff. Teachers like Dwayne Reed are speaking out to protest the mandates, citing overall safety concerns for educators. In particular, they want CPS to acknowledge and accommodate those in at-risk positions. Reed’s wife is currently seven months pregnant with their first child. He applied for a telework request but was denied.
Reed recently took his protest to the sidewalk outside of his school. The district wanted all teachers to report back to their buildings, so he set up outside instead. When his students asked why he was teaching outside, he told them that it’s important for his students to see what’s going on within their own school. They don’t have to agree with his perspective, but history is happening right now. Here’s what Reed had to say about speaking out.
WeAreTeachers: Why are you outside teaching today?
DR: Teaching outside in an act of civil disobedience in protest against what I feel is an inequitable ask. CPS is mandating that all of its educators who are unable to secure telework accommodation come in and work from the building right now. And I just decided no. No.
WeAreTeachers: Why won’t you go inside the school building?
DR: Because one—it’s not safe. And two—I don’t feel like my telework accommodation was carefully considered. The mass rejection that I got, and that hundreds of others received, didn’t speak specifically to my situation. I’m living with someone who is immunocompromised and needs me to not bring home a sickness.
WeAreTeachers: Why is it important for you to talk to your students about this?
DR: I want my kids to see that sometimes you have to advocate for yourself, and you have to advocate for others. I’m not just doing this because Dwayne Reed needs it, but because so many other educators across the country either need it or need to see it happen so they can be inspired. Being able to show my scholars, “no, this directly impacts you,” and challenging them to count the costs in this very present moment makes it real for them.
WeAreTeachers: Are students taking notice?
DR: Yes, this is change in action. They see me and say, “Oh, my teacher is going to be sitting out here in the cold talking to me through a mask because he doesn’t want to be sitting in an unsafe building talking to me through a mask.” It says something to them. One of my scholars is on the list to return in person. And today, she said, “Mr. Reed, I definitely stand with you. I’m not sure if I’m going to be coming back to the school anymore.”
WeAreTeachers: How do you think this teaches young people to advocate for themselves?
DR: I hope they recognize that they can stand up for themselves after having seen an example. They can say, “Oh, that Black man is standing up for himself in this situation.” Then they can say, “Oh, I can do that.” It’s not just when they get older, but it’s right now. Today I said to them, “Even if you protest my protest, that’s okay. Just make sure your voice is heard.”
WeAreTeachers: What about the people who think you should just go back and teach? What do you say to them?
DR: My wife’s father passed away a few years ago. And my biological father passed away the same year, just a few months separated. And I never got to experience what it’s like to have a dad. Now that I get to become a dad within the next two months, I cherish that already. Outside of being married to my wife, it’s the greatest thing I’ve experienced, and I haven’t even experienced it yet.
I’m not going to let a political system … I’m not going to let an institution … I’m not going to let my school district take that opportunity away from me. If I can mitigate that risk by not going into the classroom, then that’s what I’m going to do.
Main photo by Michael Hicks Jr.
When have teachers ever been safe at school? While I sympathize with this teacher’s personal situation, this looks less like a protest than some form of tantrum because his telework request was denied. I could maybe understand if his district had tried in-person, with disastrous results, but the article doesn’t mention that. It also sounds like kids aren’t in the building yet–just other teachers–so I’m not sure why he feels unsafe. Advocacy generally involves conversation. In 23 years of teaching, I’ve never seen districts respond to this type of ‘protest.’ And I don’t see students learning the lesson he thinks he’s teaching–especially when that lesson is ‘Why I don’t want to be at school.’ My district has been in-person with kids since August. I was initially very concerned, because I live with an immunocompromised adult child with special needs. We have had some positive Covid cases, but this level of fear is unfounded. You’re no more likely to contract Covid in school than you are grocery shopping, getting gas, talking to your food-delivery person, or handling your mail. All daily routines carry risks. Follow protocols and take precautions, then get on with your day. Let’s protest the real problems in education–like equal access to resources, underfunded humanities programs, and increasing teacher pay.