Chicago Teachers Union Refuses to Let Volunteers Run Library

Published February 10, 2017

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has said it would rather see a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) elementary school library shut down than allow parent volunteers to run it.

In the fall, Pritzker Elementary, located in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, experienced funding cuts and low enrollment, so the school released its librarian. Rather than see the school library closed, some parents volunteered to do the work normally completed by a librarian so students could continue to check out books. Pritzker agreed to the arrangement, and in response, CTU filed a grievance against Pritzker Principal Joenile Albert-Reese arguing Pritzker should have hired a CPS-certified librarian or chosen not to have anyone work in the library.

“[U]nless further funding for CPS is secured, having already cut all non-essential staff and programs, schools like Pritzker will now have to start identifying which essential services they can eliminate or reduce in the future,” said the grievance filed by CTU, according to a December 2016 report by Chicago’s

Defying the Union

Albert-Reese says she plans to defy the CTU.

“The problem has been because of the Chicago Teachers Union’s contract with the CPS. They have tried to inhibit us from using these vast resources, which are available to us in our own building,” Albert-Reese said. “And consequently, as principal, I have decided I am going to allow them to use the library anyway, because it’s a travesty to have the library there with materials for the children [but without a way to use them.]

“We want them to read,” Albert-Reese said. “We want to make reading available to them. Reading is the premise of all education, and how could I tell them they can’t go there to read and they can’t have access to the literature in their own library at their fingertips? I am not going to deny my students access to the rich resources we have in our building.”

The union represents teachers, not students, Albert-Reese says.

“This is the union’s job, to represent the employees. It’s what they do,” Albert-Reese said. “But it’s my job to ensure our students are well-educated and ensure they have access to the resources I can provide, so that’s why I’m going into the library. They can’t tell me I can’t go into the library; I’m the principal!”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.