Chicago lunch ladies stand with Philadelphia school workers, students amid layoff crisis

CPSPhillyAs school layoffs for Chicago Public School workers loom, CPS lunch ladies are traveling to Philadelphia to stand with thousands of fired Philadelphia public school workers. The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) announced layoffs of thousands. Lunchroom workers in Chicago and families in Philadelphia say this is a mistake, saying this increases the risk of violence in schools. Together, they are calling on the City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania to act on funding proposals to protect Philadelphia schoolchildren.

Of the more than 3,000 SDP employees to be laid off July 1 due to the school funding crisis, the largest single group of laid-off workers is over 1,200 Student Safety Staff (alternately known as Noon-time Aides). In response today, clergy, parents, students and School District employees all spoke to the need to prioritize the safety of every Philadelphia student at a press conference outside Philadelphia’s City Hall.

“What’s happening in Philadelphia is a national tragedy and is putting children at risk who already struggle with violence and poverty,” said CPS lunchroom attendant Louise Babbs, who is travelling to Philadelphia to support laid-off workers there. “We have the responsibility as parents ourselves and as the people who feed these children every single day in our schools to stand up to make sure they’re safe.”

Student Safety Staff are responsible for maintaining order in lunchrooms and hallways – two places where student safety is often at risk. In a recent report on ABC’s Nightline (aired on 5/30/2013), the principal of Strawberry Mansions High School, Linda Cliatt-Wyman described lunchtime as “the most scary part of the day for me,” remarking on the fact that at lunch time all the students are gathered in one place.

“Every day we are more than just safety staff,” Migdalia Lopez, a student safety staff member at Bodine High School, says. “We have to act as counselors, nurses, and even social workers sometimes. We try to do our best because we care so much about the students.”

A report released last week by UNITE HERE, based on surveys of 434 SDP employees, found that 40% of those surveyed indicated that they had recently witnessed a violent incident where there was not enough student safety staff present to address the situation.

The Student Safety Staff’s primary goal is to keep Philadelphia’s students out of danger. But, many Safety Staff understand that they are also an integral part of the community within Philadelphia’s schools.