LITTLE VILLAGE — A lauded special education teacher at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Little Village soon could be fired, and parents across the city are fighting her ouster.
Sarah Chambers, an eight-year teacher at the school and a leader who has advocated for students with special needs across the city, has been suspended from her job, she confirmed last week. On Monday, Chicago Public Schools officials said they have moved to fire Chambers.
In a statement, CPS officials said Chambers is accused of violating Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Board of Education policies.
"Ms. Chambers engaged in misconduct that created cause to move to dismiss her," said Emily Bittner, a CPS spokeswoman.
Bittner declined to say what CPS policies Chambers allegedly violated. Chambers said she is accused of encouraging a student to opt out of the PARCC test, an annual standardized test given to students in third through eighth grades and high school, a charge she denies.
Chambers said Saucedo parents come from a "strong activist culture" and make their own decision to opt out of PARCC testing.
Chambers now can present her case against dismissal to an independent Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer. A hearing has not been scheduled, a Chicago Teachers Union official said.
The union said CPS is moving to fire Chambers for criticizing CPS, and it will fight the firing, union spokesman Ronnie Reese said.
When news of Chambers' suspension spread, parents and teachers launched a petition online in support of her, urging CPS not to fire the "distinguished, award-winning teacher."
Within 24 hours, more than 1,000 people had signed the petition. As of Tuesday morning, more than 2,100 people had signed.
Chambers, who is co-chairwoman of the union's special education task force, was notified of the suspension Thursday. She claimed CPS is moving to fire her in retaliation for union organizing and for standing up for the needs of her special education students.
"I was in complete shock. I'm a distinguished teacher, and I've never been written up before," Chambers told DNAinfo. "I truly believe it's because I'm being a leader and advocating for the rights of special education students around the city."
Suspended Saucedo teacher Sarah Chambers is an outspoken member of the Chicago Teachers Union. [Sarah Chambers]
Chambers has been rated as "distinguished" by six administrators at Saucedo, she said.
In meetings, protests and in the media, the outspoken teacher also repeatedly has bashed CPS for "systematically slashing special education services."
In February, Chambers complained that a midyear change to special education students' schedules at Saucedo was "causing instability" for students with special needs. At the time, Saucedo teachers held a protest in front of Saucedo to demand that Chambers' original schedule be restored so she could go back to working with her eighth-grade students during a "critical" point in their development.
In response, CPS spokesman Michael Passman said the revised schedule was "necessary to more effectively meet the needs of [special education students] at Saucedo."
The changes at Saucedo were proposed as CPS enforced a "more stringent approach" to identifying and educating students with disabilities, according to a Better Government Association report. Special education spending accounted for more than 15 percent of the CPS budget this year.
Saucedo students protested proposed scheduling changes that affected teacher Sarah Chambers' students in February. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Chambers said the proposed schedule changes were never implemented at the school.
"Parents and teacher fought back and were able to stop it," Chambers said. "Now they are going after me again."
Saucedo already has two vacancies for special education teachers, and Chambers said she worried how another vacancy will affect her vulnerable students.
"Some of my students, when they saw online, they were bawling," she said. "If Rahm Emanuel and CPS cared about our vulnerable special education students, they would stop this witch hunt and immediately return me to this classroom and my brilliant and creative students with disabilities."
Rod Estvan, an education policy analyst with Access Living who also serves on the teachers union's special education task force, said Chambers is a model teacher who helps other CPS special education teachers advocate for their students.
"We really find it pretty reprehensible that they are going after a teacher that really cares about kids," Estvan said. "I find her work to be incredible lauded, and she is incredibly courageous given what is happening to her."
Cindy Ok, a CPS parent who also serves on the union's special education task force, said Chambers "advocates for all special education students" in CPS.
"She is a tireless advocate for children," she said.
Saucedo Principal Virginia Hiltz declined to comment Tuesday.