Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post
Last month, it was announced that Chicago Public Schools District 299 is receiving a total of more than $2.79 billion, the largest federal aid package in CPS history.
This month, they apparently can’t find funds to save the job of a clerk at a school in Garfield Ridge.
That’s the gist of Judy Mahoney’s story.
Since 2018, Judy has worked as a clerk at Byrne Elementary School. But now she’s being pushed out, allegedly because there are no funds to cover her salary.
But before I proceed with the story, let’s back up a bit.
Judy was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. at age 10, in 1981. She grew up in Back of the Yards, attending several grade schools there and then in 1989 graduating from Curie High School.
In 1993 she was hired by CPS and worked for 23 years at Whittier Elementary School, near 23rd and Damen.
Then tragedy struck.
In May 2017, Judy was riding in a vehicle struck head-on by a drunk driver with no insurance.
She suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the waist down. She was off work for eight months as she underwent hospitalization and then grueling rehabilitation work.
Click here to see seven seconds' worth of video of Judy in her rehab hospital bed.
“I had to re-learn everything,” Judy recalls. “I was like a baby. I even had to learn to sit up.”
But she persevered, thanks in part to the support and encouragement she received from her husband, three daughters and eight sisters; and though now in a wheelchair (most likely for the rest of her life), Judy was ready to return to work at CPS.
But three decades after passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, many CPS schools remain inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs.
Whittier’s building, more than 100 years old, is one of them. It has never been retrofitted with an elevator. So much for claims by Mayors Daley and Emmanuel that they’d make Chicago the most accessible city in the nation, I guess.
So Judy filed her paperwork to come back to work, but said she had to endure a months-long runaround that left her emotionally exhausted, with CPS officials allegedly dragging their feet in finding her a spot in a wheelchair-accessible school.
In 2018, she landed a position at Byrne and has worked there ever since.
Her bilingual skills are a plus for the school, as is her disability—if only because Judy serves as an everyday reminder to Byrne students that people with disabilities can and do function as equals in the real world, and must be treated as such. In multiple ways, she’s a role model for the boys and girls at Byrne.
But after three years at Byrne, CPS will lay Judy off at the end of June because the Central Office is reportedly ending funding of her salary and Byrne cannot afford her.
When asked for its take on Judy’s situation, a CPS spokesman said, “Three years ago, the district created and funded an additional clerk position at Byrne Elementary to support this employee during a difficult time. Like hundreds of schools, Byrne Elementary is wheelchair accessible, and could meet her needs. Recently, the employee was asked to begin applying for vacant clerk positions at other wheelchair accessible schools, with the district's support. The district remains fully committed to continuing to work with the employee to find a new position at another school that meets her needs. Any suggestion the district has been unsupportive of this employee is uninformed."
A request for comment from Byrne Principal Elizabeth Gallo went unanswered.
So Judy’s struggle continues, and it’s not easy, she says.
“I’m old school. I take pride in my job. I’m professional. I show up for work every day. What’s being done to me is hurtful. It pains me that they don’t have any compassion for me. This is destroying my emotional state of mind.”
A petition to pressure Mayor Lightfoot, CPS and the Chicago Board of Education has reportedly attracted more than 7,000 signatures thus far. If you want to sign it, click here.
The Byrne Local School Council will meet at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 2 via Zoom. Not sure if they will discuss this matter, but visit byrnecps.org to obtain details on how to attend.
Additionally, it looks like Judy's CTU colleagues will picket or conduct some sort of a demonstration at about 7:00 a.m. Tuesday, May 25 at the school. Stay in touch with facebook.com/SWChicagoPost for details.
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