Proviso teachers and students picket in front of Proviso East High School in Maywood hours before a District 209 school board meeting on Tuesday evening. | Provided

Last week may have been the most eventful in the months-long contract negotiations between the Proviso Teachers Union and District 209 administrators. 

The week started with teachers and their supporters picketing before Tuesday night’s D209 school board meeting, where an exchange between two board members went viral, exacerbating tensions between the union and the district. 

On Wednesday, students in all three D209 high schools walked out of classes during demonstrations designed to show their support for teachers. 

And on Thursday, the day before the Proviso Teachers Union (PTU) was scheduled to go on strike Feb. 18, PTU officials announced that they had postponed the planned work stoppage and would consider the D209 administration’s updated offer. 

According to multiple sources, students at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park started walking out of class on Wednesday morning. Sources said they converged on the fifth floor, where the district’s central administrative offices, including the office of D209 Supt. James Henderson, 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. 

“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.”

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.

In a statement released Wednesday, D209 school board President Rodney Alexander said that the district has changed the offer it made during a negotiation session on Saturday of 6% salary raises over three years, with 2% in each of the three contract years, to 7% over three years. The district would offer a 2% salary raise in the first year and 2.5% in the next two years. 

Alexander said that while the two sides haven’t reached an agreement on scheduling additional negotiation sessions, they have been continuing informal communications and communicating through a federal mediator.  

Alexander said the district had offered to schedule another mediation session on Friday morning. The next two sessions are currently scheduled for Feb. 23 and March 9.  

In the union’s statement, Riley said that the district’s new offer “helps bring us closer to one, but there’s still work to be done so we’re willing to temporarily postpone our strike.”

Riley then referenced the friction between some board members and community members that was apparent during a school board meeting on Feb. 15. 

“For months [the superintendent and the board] have ignored parent and teacher concerns, but they went too far on Tuesday night at the board meeting by blatantly disrespecting our students who spoke out in support of their teachers,” Riley added. 

“One board member even made an obscene gesture to a teacher,” she said. “In order to move forward, we demand an end to the contempt being shown to our students, parents, and educators.” 

In his statement, Alexander said that the district updated its offer in order to “reach a fair contract agreement and avoid a strike, which would only further burden our families and students following almost two years of learning loss due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.” 

There was no school scheduled on Feb. 21, which was Presidents Day. On Thursday, D209 students attended schools remotely, with teachers administering virtual instruction from their classrooms. 

Alexander said that the soonest a strike could happen is Feb. 22, when district officials said students would return to classes as planned.