Teachers and staff in predominantly Black, all boys charter network win long sought-after special ed protections to which 30% of Urban Prep students are eligible, while EPIC students call on charter operator to reverse retaliatory firings of high school teachers.
- 4:00 p.m. TODAY, Wed., June 9: student rally for fired teachers, Epic charter high school, 8255 S. Houston Ave. Chicago
CHICAGO, June 9, 2021 — Teachers and staff at three Urban Prep Academies campuses in Bronzeville, Englewood and the Loop reached a tentative agreement with the charter operator early this morning, ending a two-day strike. Among the gains for the predominantly Black, all boys school community were a commitment from management to follow special education law after months of rejecting contract language that would secure those rights for students.
Educators also won the right to open the contract for renegotiation shortly after the next school year, a safety measure as the charter company continues to come under scrutiny for troubling financial practices that include relationships with out-of-state lenders that siphon school resources from classrooms.
Throughout bargaining, Urban Prep families, teachers and staff remained deeply committed to the company’s mission to nurture and support young Black men — and to holding management accountable in embracing and enacting its charter vision and mission. Urban Prep financial practices, however, were a serious threat to this goal, undermining special education funding and contributing to the instability of teacher turnover.
“We’re not here without the voices of parents and teachers advocating for students,” said CTU in-house counsel Latoyia Kimbrough. “Parents and teachers speaking out doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the mission of Urban Prep. Parents and teachers are speaking out because they are the owners of the Urban Prep mission. This legacy is theirs, and they fought — we all fought — to make Urban Prep better.”
Word of the tentative agreement at Urban Prep has lifted spirits at Epic Academy Charter High School on Chicago’s South Side, where a growing number of students and parents are joining educators to oppose the sudden termination of four teachers in late May. At 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Epic students will rally at the school at 8255 S. Houston Ave. to demand that management reinstate the Epic Four: science teacher KeShawn Williams, who also advises the school’s LGBTQIA club; history teacher Priscilla Dixon; math teacher Lawrence Marshall; and math teacher Erik Thibault, the only white teacher and non-bargaining team member terminated as members were voting on their first contract. The Union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against management, and the contract vote has been paused as educators consider striking over those terminations.
As part of Urban Prep’s tentative agreement, educators won first ever class size limits for Urban Prep students and made improvements to teacher evaluations and provisional periods for new hires designed to retain high quality teachers. Management had for weeks insisted on an extended period to fire educators — even if highly qualified — despite the charter operator’s notoriously high teacher turnover rate.
Teachers will also receive additional paid leave, back pay for the three years they were denied raises, as well as salary increases moving them closer to others teachers throughout the district. Urban Prep will also pay a stipend to mentor teachers who will work to help develop young educators.
Urban Prep teachers remain committed to working closely with parents and students, as the financial situation at the prestigious charter network remains a serious concern. Urban Prep management paid out over $1.6 million in 2020 to merchant cash advance businesses, which accounted for more than half of its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and almost 30 percent of the charter operator’s annual instructional spending. Lenders have raked in profits as high as 50% on Urban Prep’s sale of future revenue — funds that would otherwise have gone to support special education and other student needs.
While Urban Prep has received $3 million in forgivable COVID PPP federal loans on top of their CPS funding, teachers have seen no evidence that management has invested those funds into classrooms.