09/06/2012 10:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

CPS Gets a Lesson in Social Justice


The suits who run Chicago Public Schools never would have tried the stunts they recently pulled at Chicago's Social Justice High School had it been a largely white, middle-class school on the city's Northwest Side.

In those neighborhoods -- places like Sauganash and Edgebrook -- CPS execs wouldn't dare can a popular principal in August and then, without notice, foist a new principal upon a school and allow that hired gun to (1) fire the English department, (2) gut the school's curriculum of any number of Advanced Placement (or comparable accelerated) classes, and (3) evade answering the community's questions about those events.

No, the strong-arm tactics rolled out last month by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked education team in the largely Mexican-American Little Village neighborhood seem as if they came from a playbook designed for schools like School Justice -- schools that are filled with poor black and brown kids.

But are the folks downtown really so out of touch that they didn't expect push back from students, parents and teachers at a school that calls itself Social Justice?

Evidently, they are.

And is this mayor so hell-bent on busting the Chicago Teachers Union that his people brazenly -- though, in this case, unsuccessfully -- pick off union activists like Katie Hogan and Angela Sangha (both veteran English teachers at Social Justice) in the midst of ongoing, contentious labor negotiations with the CTU?

Time will tell.

Hogan and Sangha were fired for alleged "economic reasons" at the end of the school day on Friday, August 24, after being escorted out of their classrooms by CPS security in a manner that suggested they had broken the law.

After sustained outcry from Social Justice students and the Little Village community, intervention by CTU's legal team, and the threat of a lawsuit, CPS reinstated Hogan and Sangha with back pay on August 31. (Issues concerning the status of the school's recently removed principal and newly dumbed-down curriculum remain unresolved.)

Hogan and Sangha know they owe their jobs not only to their union, which fought hard for them last month when they were abruptly (and quite literally) shown the door, but also to the students, parents and teachers at Social Justice, who continue to make their voices heard.

So grab a drink, kick back, and listen to Hogan and two of her students (Social Justice seniors Rocío Meza and Karen Canales) describe in some detail the first weeks of their 2012-13 school year. Their stories may strike outsiders as almost unbelievable; unfortunately, though, their stories are all too common in the highly dysfunctional world of CPS.