Two teachers at George Washington High School get to keep their jobs after the Board of Education voted unanimously last week not to fire them – going against a hearing officer’s recommendation.
The teachers say they were encouraging students to participate in the process of free speech by protesting metal scrap company General Iron, which planned to move into their South Side community.
Chuck Stark, a science teacher at George Washington High School, says the school district didn’t tell him or social studies teacher Lauren Bianchi what policy they broke to lead to the potential loss of their jobs.
“This is part of our curriculum that has been approved and encouraged by our school, also by CPS itself,” says Stark.
Bianchi says students told her about their concerns over General Iron moving in to the neighborhood.
“I started educating myself about this company that was trying to move, essentially, right across the street from our school building and that’s when teachers and others in the school community started reaching out to environmental organizations in the community, you know, students spent their time outside of the classroom,” she said.
Stark says his students were learning about particulate matter as General Iron was planning their move and says the students took initiative from there.
Bianchi says that as a social studies teacher, she is required to engage students in community issues and protesting General Iron was part of that requirement.
The Board of Education said in a statement, “While promoting civic engagement in our schools is a top priority for CPS, it must be done in accordance with the district’s policies and relevant law in order to protect student safety and ensure that students are not treated differently based on their willingness to participate in political activities. We hope that the warnings directed by the Board of Education today will not only address the behavior of these teachers but ensure that promoting civic engagement among school communities is done appropriately and with due regard for student safety.”
Stark and Bianchi say they will continue to encourage their students to be active participants in their communities.