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Students, alderman cry foul over West Side school suspensions

Updated: July 3, 2011 1:08PM

Students and even an alderman Wednesday labeled as excessive the out-of-school suspensions of dozens of students for waging walk-outs and sit-ins over the termination of a quarter of the teaching staff at Austin-Polytech High School.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) told Chicago School Board members the action at the West Side school by Principal Fabby Williams was “harsh’’ and Williams should have notified him of such a mass out-of-school suspension action.

Chicago Public School officials responded by saying all 36 out-of-school suspensions had been rescinded — although kids complained Wednesday some students had already served part or all of them. The school sent letters to parents Wednesday confirming the lifting of the suspensions, a CPS spokesman said.

Students were objecting to notice that seven of 30 Austin Polytech teachers — all non-tenured — were being terminated as of the end of the school year. The group is among more than 370 probationary, non-tenured CPS teachers who will lose their jobs at the end of this school year based on decisions by their principals that require no explanation to teachers.

“These actions are not good or fair,’’ said Polytech student Cuauhtemoc Mendoza. “He dismissed teachers who [were not] bad teachers.’’

As many as 51 students walked out of school for an hour last week over the teacher dismissals, Cuauhtemoc said. Williams “bamboozled’’ them into returning with threats of out-of-school suspensions and being barred from prom and graduation, Cuauhtemoc said. They later discovered such a punishment was not allowed under the student code of conduct.

Some 36 students then held a sit-in, and most were given five-day suspensions, CPS officials said.

Austin Polytech teacher Lillian Kass joined the crowd Wednesday objecting to the teacher terminations, saying the teachers were part of the “best staff I ever worked with” and marked the “demise of my school.’’

She said some teachers were dumped in their third year of teaching, “just as they were hitting their stride,’’ by a principal who had been in Chicago for less than a year. Williams plans to become the principal of a suburban school this fall, she said. Such a short-term principal should not be allowed to make decisions that affect teachers long-term, Kass said.

“This is an outrage,’’ Kass told board members. “We demand this decision be overturned.’’

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