Students and teachers at all three District 209 high schools walked out en masse on Wednesday morning. The move, virtually all of the students interviewed said, is a gesture of support for teachers as they negotiate a contract with D209 administrators.

According to multiple sources, students at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park started walking out of class early this morning. Sources said they converged on the fifth floor, where the district’s central administrative offices are located.

That demonstration was followed by mass walkouts at Proviso East in Maywood at around 10:40 a.m. Students at Proviso West started walking out sometime after 11 a.m.
Hector Delgadillo, a 14-year-old freshman at Proviso East in Maywood, said he was in class when he saw students walking out of the school.

“The students, some of the teachers were walking out with signs,” he said. “The teachers just let us go outside. Security was trying to stop us, but they couldn’t stop like a thousand kids trying to go outside. Now, from what I saw, every student is outside related to the strike, because this is affecting their education and the teachers’ pay, because they’re not paying them.”

Proviso East sophomores Kiara Dorsey, Kalila Johnson and Amarri Howard said they were transitioning from third period to fourth period when the demonstration started on their campus. They said the mass demonstration was planned in advance, with information about it “all over social media” on Tuesday.

“We’re with the teachers,” they said, in unison. Johnson said she watched last night’s D209 school board meeting online and was disappointed with how board members and administrators responded to public comments from students, parents and teachers.
“During the board meeting, the administration was not paying attention to what students were saying,” Johnson said.

“The administration was just on their phone, doing makeup and not caring what matters to us,” she said. “This administration sucks. The superintendent doesn’t care about the students, they just care about getting their money, that’s why they’re not giving teachers any of it.”

Contract negotiations between the Proviso Teachers Union (PTU) and D209 Supt. James Henderson broke down recently. Last month, 98% of the PTU’s 280 members, who include teachers, librarians, social workers and school counselors, voted to authorize a strike. On Feb. 12, the union said the strike date has been set for Friday.

So far, there have been no negotiating sessions scheduled before then, PTU President Maggie Riley said before Tuesday evening’s school board meeting. She said Henderson has not negotiated in good faith and, except for a few occasions, has refused to meet on weekends and after 6 p.m.

The teachers are still miles apart from the district on the number of school periods, salary raises and classroom sizes.

Johnson said that if the union does strike on Friday, she’ll be on picketing alongside them.
“The superintendent and administration don’t care about education,” she said. “It’s obvious they don’t.”

East students Leo Cahue, Terrell Chatman, Jermaine Poole and Lamar Galvin all said that, as far as they know, the walkout at their high school has been peaceful, with no incidents of violence. They all said they side with the teachers.

“Some of those teachers have been there for as long as we’ve been alive,” said Poole, 15.
The students said that the teachers have not told them much about the negotiations. They said that some teachers have indicated that, if a strike happens, they’ll work with students remotely in some capacity. The four students said they haven’t heard anything about post-strike plans from the district.

Meanwhile, they said, they’ll spend the rest of the school day at their respective homes.