The Amundsen High School Local School Council calls your attention to two errors in the article May 6, 1994, Neighborhood News section about George Schmidt and his candidacy for the Chicago Teachers Union presidency.
In the first paragraph, second column, your writer Ben Joravsky states, "Only recently he was drummed out of Amundsen High School, at Foster and Damen, and transferred to Bowen, on the far south side, after the principal accused him of teaching pornography."
The facts are: George lost his position at Amundsen last September, along with 20 other teachers, some with more seniority than he, when the Chicago Board of Education established the 50-minute-period schedule for all public high schools. High schools throughout Chicago lost huge numbers of staff in what the board refers to as a cost saving effort, regardless of its effect upon students, teachers, and school operations.
In addition, the issue of George teaching from The 13th Valley was raised as a concern to the principal and LSC in the spring of 1993 by several parents. The end result of reviewing this book, and other similar materials, was the creation of a review committee staffed by faculty members. The committee developed a wonderful report, based on recommendations from librarians nationwide.
Perhaps in the future if Mr. Joravsky or other reporters write about issues concerning Amundsen High School, you will suggest that facts or accusations be checked out with the principal, LSC, and others at the school. We work very hard at our school to assure that operations are carried out in the most democratic manner possible as well as being within Chicago public school directives and Chicago Teacher Union contract regulations.
Harriet O'Donnell Corresponding Secretary Amundsen High School Local School Council
Ben Joravsky replies:
Schmidt tells a much different story. He contends that Amundsen's administrators used the budget cuts as an excuse to oust him, and he has filed a lawsuit charging that union seniority rules were violated in his transfer. According to his suit, Amundsen administrators closed one math position, one science position, one art position, and seven English positions in last September's cuts. (Half the English department was cut, forcing French and Spanish teachers to teach a few English courses.) Other cuts were made through attrition as teachers retired. Schmidt says he had the most seniority of those teachers transferred and more seniority than 40 of the teachers who were allowed to remain.
Schmidt is an outspoken union activist in a system that prefers its teachers to behave like sheep. He also has progressive ideas about high school English. At Amundsen his students read Tolstoy, Conrad, Kafka, Voltaire, Twain, Melville, Dickens, and Shakespeare, as well as the book that got him into trouble: John Del Vecchio's The 13th Valley, arguably the finest book ever written about the Vietnam War. It's no secret to many observers I talked to that Amundsen's principal as well as several local school council members (O'Donnell included) were glad to be rid of him.