Those attending the Sept. 27 Board meeting of Evanston Skokie School District 65 were greeted by a large group of District educators, dressed in black and holding signs outside the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, which houses the District’s Board meeting room. Because of COVID-19 capacity restrictions, the large number of demonstrators were unable to enter the boardroom, but their presence was heard as they marched around the building, clapping and chanting, “Listen to our teacher voice!”

Maria Barroso, President of District 65’s Educators’ Council (DEC), the union that represents approximately 800 educators, read a statement about “the toxic working environment our educators face.” A common theme in the list of grievances, which she shared during public comments, was the exclusion of educators’ voices in matters that affect them. 

Teachers protest Sept. 27 outside the District 65 school board meeting. (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

Barroso began by describing a return to school marked with “unfair demands and unclear COVID protocols,” with “no opportunity to adjust to being back in the buildings with masks on, and create a positive learning environment for our students.”

Teachers across the nation have experienced increased workloads and altered routines throughout the pandemic, both during remote learning and in the transition to on-campus learning.

According to Barroso, educators in some District 65 buildings have a “great working relationship” and are able to offer their input, while in others, educators are “shut down and not allowed to ask questions or express concerns.”

“Asking questions is not a form of insubordination,” Barroso said. “It is critical thinking, which is what we teach our students to do.”

Teachers carry signs Sept. 27 outside District 65’s Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, which houses the District’s Board meeting room. (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

Barroso also criticized the omission of DEC representation in meetings of the Medical Advisory Board. She characterized the information shared by the Medical Advisory Board as “confusing or vague” with “no agendas, minutes [or] any other information regarding how decisions were made.” She called the lack of transparency “disrespectful,” and added that educators have “the right to be part of the decisions that impact our safety.”

Barroso said the implementation of new computer systems has been marred by technological mishaps and unclear instructions, adding to the difficulty of teachers’ jobs. “PowerSchool [the online student information system] has been discussed by this District for over a year. And yet this has not been working properly since the beginning of the school year.”

District 65 teachers, dressed in black, gather Sept. 27 outside the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center. The teachers clapped and chanted outside the building, which houses the District’s Board meeting room. (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

Expressing concern about the ability of District administrators “to recruit and retain highly qualified educators because they are overworking them,” Barroso called on the District to “respect and support our educators [as] their wellbeing is directly connected to their ability to do their job and create a productive learning environment for students to succeed.”

Barroso urged the Board to take an active role in advocating for educators, reminding Board members that teachers, not the Board or administration, are with and responsible for students during the course of every school day.

“If the Board remains silent and does not address the concerns, then they’re complicit in creating negative working conditions, which are not in the best interest of our students,” she said. “Educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

Bessie Mbadugha

Bessie N. A. Mbadugha took a hiatus from her previous life as a Chemistry professor to devote more time to her family, and became an active leader in numerous community initiatives in Hillsborough, North...