Teachers call for improved school safety

Monday, March 13, 2006

There is growing concern about an increase in school violence as more public schools in the Chicago area close. Members of the Chicago Teachers Union joined parents and students in a call to improve safety in the classrooms and hallways. They believe part of the problem is tied directly with the closing of several schools.

Chicago Teachers Union president Marilyn Stewart has been very critical of Chicago Public Schools closings. Monday morning she said the closings and moving students outside their neighborhoods is contributing to the increase in violence at a number of schools. She was joined by teachers and students directly affected by the violence.

"There's research that by moving around the system, all we're getting is these violent outbreaks in the schools. The teachers are terrorized and the students are terrorized," Stewart said.

Stewart says Hyde Park Career Academy showed the highest number of violent incidents per month, jumping a whopping 226 percent during the period analyzed.

Teacher Betti Ziemba says she is afraid for her life and has taken a leave of absence after being attacked.

"Had [another teacher] not started pulling students out of the room, they could have seriously injured me or killed me," said Ziemba, Hyde Park Academy teacher.

"When I walked in the classroom, they said, 'You better get out of here or we're going to slap you around,' in front of two other teachers and all the other students," said John Kugler, Hyde Park Academy teacher.

Both teachers are still waiting to hear from the school board about protection while at school.

Wells teacher Joshua Strand stated that CPS has been negligent in planning the placement of kids from closed schools.

"Spreading kids around is not only bad for the schools, but think about those kids removed from their environment," Strand said.

Two students, both victims of school violence at Wells, told their stories, and one showed a photo of horrific beating.

"They basically kicked my head in. I had footprints all over my face," said Eddie Cruz, Wells student.

Schools CEO Arne Duncan says they are spending $53 million a year on security, and violence in the school is down for the last two years.

"Violence in the schools is down the last two years and down dramatically over the past decade," said Duncan.

"A lot of this stuff happening in the schools is not being reported," said Katrina Byndom, student's mother.

Marilyn Stewart is calling for a moratorium on school closings and is asking the board to rescind the proposal to close schools at the end of this school year.

Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan says they plan to move forward with the school closings.

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