It all started when the General Iron Company decided to move its car-shredding operation to Chicago’s Southeast Side community. Students, teachers, and community members held numerous marches and demonstrations to protest the move to a location little more than half a mile from George Washington High School. In addition, teacher Chuck Stark took part in a hunger strike and teacher Lauren Bianchi was arrested at a protest outside a city official’s home.
Chicago Public Schools recommended firing the two for alleged “repeated instances of poor judgment and bias in their instructional roles and in their faculty adviser roles.” At a rally in support of the two teachers, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates said, “This is retaliation because we have two educators who stood in lockstep with their students, their families and their communities to challenge racism.” In the face of such protests, Chicago Public Schools’ governing board unanimously rejected the recommendation to fire Stark and Bianchi, ruling instead that they should receive warnings and agree to receive training related to district rules.
At the close of the meeting, Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle said, “This board believes in culturally relevant education and it is a core value of CPS. We will continue to be supportive of all our teachers who promote education that is relevant and sensitive to the environments of our students and the overall status of their communities. So in no way do we want to move away from that commitment.”
Were the General Iron protests effective? In February, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration denied a permit for the business to operate. And after a two-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found in July that the city of Chicago is violating the civil rights of its residents by relocating polluting businesses from white communities into Black and Latino areas that already are overwhelmed with environmental and health issues. In a letter to the city, HUD threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars unless Chicago changes its unlawful planning, zoning, and land-use policies so they don’t discriminate against communities of color.