Bringing bawk the rooster: City Council moves on amendment to allow roosters on school grounds


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

Tyrone, the rooster who became a part of Evanston Township High School classes, was adopted by someone in Wadsworth, Illinois following noise complaints at ETHS.

Aviva Bechky and William Tong

At Evanston Township High School, Tyrone spent the fall protecting his flock.

The rooster would make sure all eight of the hens at the school ate first, according to ETHS science teacher Ellen Fierer. When people picked up Tyrone and pet him, he’d just close his eyes and let himself be held, she added. 

“He was just so sweet,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

Tyrone was part of ETHS’ Urban Agriculture class, which teaches about food sovereignty and shows students how to grow their own food. The school wound up with three roosters after raising a brood of chicks last year and realizing not all of them were hens, Fierer said. 

But, Evanston city code bans roosters within city limits, and due to noise complaints about the rooster, Tyrone left ETHS in January.

After having to send away Tyrone and the other two roosters, however, some of Fierer’s students wrote to their councilmembers asking to change city ordinances. On Feb. 27, City Council voted unanimously to introduce an amendment to city code allowing roosters on school grounds.

“It manifested in because the students were like, ‘We should have been able to keep Tyrone. How do we change this rule?’” Fierer said.

The amendment would allow non-home educational institutions with agricultural programs for students over the age of 13 to keep a single rooster.

A rooster struts across the grass with several other chickens in the background.
Tyrone and some other chickens. Ellen Fierer, an Urban Agriculture teacher at ETHS, called Tyrone a sweet and beautiful rooster. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Fierer)

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) made the referral for the ordinance. She said she received about 20 to 30 emails from students and other ETHS community members about roosters on school campuses. 

“I was really impressed with the student body who were engaged in this discussion,” Harris said. 

Student advocates had convincing reasons for the city to allow a rooster at ETHS, Harris said. 

ETHS biology and Urban Agriculture teacher Sujud Ottman agrees. The roosters help students learn about raising chickens and the flock’s social dynamics, Ottman said. 

“Roosters provide protection,” she said. “It alerts the hens so they can run for cover. Because we let the chickens free range for the majority of the day, there are dangers out there such as hawks, rats, etc.” 

Ottman said roosters also keep hens from fighting with each other. Since Tyrone and his rooster compatriots Chainsaw and Gooba departed the premises, hens have been pecking at each other more, she added. 

Evanston’s current rooster ban is supposed to prevent roosters from disturbing residents with noise, Harris said. However, she lives close to ETHS and said roosters in the school have not presented a problem to the surrounding area. 

On the other hand, some ETHS staff were unhappy about the noise from the roosters, especially when the school had three.

ETHS history teacher Andrew Ginsberg said a rooster’s “bloodcurdling” call would sometimes be audible in his classroom. But a few seconds later, the scream would be over, so it didn’t strike him as disruptive.

He said he supports having chickens and roosters at school for hands-on learning.

“In most of the world, you would be accustomed to hearing wild animals at your home and school,” Ginsberg said. “It’s a very kind of privileged suburban thing to not just be annoyed by it, but to be so upset about it that you actually take action to try to get it removed.”

Evanston resident Mike Meyers, who described himself as largely “pro-animal,” said having roosters might make ETHS’ hens happier.

“If the chickens need a rooster, then yes, let’s get the chickens a rooster,” Meyers said.

Talia Murtos, an ETHS senior and Urban Agriculture student, said students in her class all emailed their councilmembers and Mayor Daniel Biss to advocate for the ordinance.

Though Murtos said she’s glad to see the ordinance progress, she also said she’s disappointed to see roosters who she once knew as chicks leave the school.

“It just feels like a day late and a dollar short, but it makes me optimistic for what resources and animals we can support in the future,” she said.

Ottman said she’d love for Tyrone to return.

But that doesn’t seem like a possibility, she said, because the school already gave Tyrone away. According to Fierer, he’s currently staying in Wadsworth, Illinois, where he’s likely to remain.

“He was like the best and most beautiful rooster in the world,” Ottman said. “He was kind, gentle. He always thought about his hens before he thought of himself.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @william2tong

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