West Side teacher demands change in Chicago’s schools

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Last month, it was reported that school lunches were contaminated at Hirsch High School with rat feces and students consumed this waste. I am sickened and saddened. I immediately think about my sons and what my response would have been if they were subjected to such inhumane cruelty. This disgusting episode made me reflect back to my lunchtime days as a child.

Friends, noise, food and laughter characterized my lunch-time ritual. Nearly an hour into the school day I could smell the food being prepared in the cafeteria’s kitchen. Moments before lunch I would eagerly anticipate what had been prepared by the “Lunch Ladies” and the fellowship of lunch time. Admittedly, I had no real idea what it took for these women to make my lunch-time meal possible. But I did appreciate the love and energy they put into the delivery of what was in many cases the only guaranteed meal for some of my friends.

“Lunch Ladies” did not simply serve food, they were connected to the students they served. It was clear they wanted to ensure our satisfaction.

The incident at Hirsch is indicative of a larger problem within Chicago Public Schools.

CPS’ love affair with privatization and other profiteering schemes has compromised the interest and well-being of the public and everything sacred about it. The latest individual to helm the district said “Very aggressive action will be taken to eliminate the rodent problem.”

She claims, “We are taking a look at the adults who were responsible for the pest control, people responsible for oversight in the kitchen. We want to look at all those levels to see who dropped the ball and when. It is an ongoing investigation.”

The constant turnover of employees in Chicago Public Schools fosters chaos and lacks care. This leaves our children at risk. The ruthless practice of purging the system of employees compromises the relationships that students and school employees build.

As a social studies teacher I taught a lesson on the deregulation of food preparation, the prevalence of food deserts in poor communities and connected it to Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” My students were able to explore how and why poor people have limited access to fresh, whole food and are often sold unhealthy, processed and preservative-filled food.

Sadly the incident at Hirsch illustrates Sinclair’s observations regarding the connection between the poor and their food supply persists in the 21st century and is housed in our city’s schools. Lunch time should provide a bit of joy in our student’s day and not serve as a reminder of the economics of our community.

If our newest CEO is serious about uncovering who is “responsible” for this “oversight” of feeding our children rat feces, she certainly will not have to look very far in order to find the source of the problem.

The institution she helms is responsible for the further destabilization of already vulnerable communities. This year and since 1999 CPS has been responsible for putting black people out of work, much like the “Lunch Ladies” I remembered, and helping to destroy our communities.

The district has closed more than 100 schools and plans to close many more. They have turned over the management of our system to strangers and hedge fund managers who have no vested interest in our children except to turn a profit. In short, the tragedy at Hirsch should serve as a warning to our community. As CPS prepares to serve its educational course and unveil a “vision” for our neighborhoods and the lives of our children, we must first check to see what is in it.

Brandon Johnson
Chicago Teachers Union

Brandon Johnson is an Austin resident, parent and five-year CPS teacher. He’s taught at both Westinghouse College Prep. and Jenner Academy of the Arts.

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