The Chicago Teachers Union wins reinstatement and back pay for group of Audiometric & Vision Screening Technicians

CHICAGO, IL – The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) recently won reinstatement and back pay for eight Audiometric and Vision Screening Technicians (V&HTs) who were permanently laid off by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2010 without just cause.  The paraprofessionals, all of whom are African American and highly regarded in their field,  worked in schools with children with a preponderance of social service needs.
“This is a victory for paraprofessionals across the District,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “CTU’s PRSP field staff, under the leadership of June Davis, helped these brave individuals stand in solidarity and fight together to restore their jobs and demand respect for their peers. Instead of cutting the specialists who offer our students these critical health interventions the District should be adding more of them.”
The V&HTs test CPS students for hearing and vision loss, which is critical given the District’s student demographics. More than three-fourths of CPS students come from families who are eligible for free lunch. The relationship between poverty and academics is well documented. About 15,000 CPS students are homeless.  Students in poverty are more likely to struggle with poor health, including hearing or vision problems that affect their school performance.
On June 30, 2010, Jane Lee-Kwon, manager of CPS’s Office of Special Education and Support, laid off the technicians citing budget constraints.  Following a grievance filed on the employees’ behalf, on February 21 of this year the complaint was finally advanced to arbitration.  Arbitrator Lawrence Cohen ruled that technicians Tangela Burton, Darnitia Ciscero, Robert Faulkner, Edna Johnson, Cheryl Jolly-Hansford, Sheila Lott, Gloria Prince, and Percy Suggs were “cherry-picked” and “capriciously and arbitrarily laid off,” by CPS.  He ordered the Board to reinstate the technicians to their former positions without loss of seniority. 
Cohen ruled, “The grievants shall also be made whole for any lost wages and benefits subsequent to their layoff.”  The news was met with elation by the technicians. “Personally I didn’t think we’d ever get our jobs back, “said Suggs.  “I applied to 60 schools (over a two year period) and not one of them would call me back.”
Added Ciscero, “The outlook was bleak because paraprofessionals are thought to be the ‘little people’ and a not a lot of emphasis is placed on what we go through in dealing the District—we’re here to help our students get the support they need,” she said. “I appreciate what CTU did for us. They never stopped being our advocates. They fought long and hard and because of that we all were able to stand together during this fight.”
According to Davis, Lee-Kwon, who also manages all CPS social workers, psychologists, and school nurses, has “harassed our members and used union-busting tactics since her appointment to the OSES in January of 2010,” she said. “We hope this ends her reckless, punitive, dictatorial and unprofessional management of clinicians.  This is a great victory for all our members because a win for one is a win for all.”