Chicago teachers and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were close to resolving their disagreements by late Thursday, but school is likely stay out until Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“We are optimistic, but we are still hammering things out. Schools will not open Friday,” union president Karen Lewis said in a statement. Chicago teachers had not gone on strike for 25 years before this.
CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard wrote an open letter to Lewis in which he criticized teachers for picketing at the Children’s First school sites, open to provide students with a place to go.
“As I mentioned in my last letter to you, to which I am seeking a formal response to, we owe it to Chicago’s children to spare them from the experience of getting caught in the middle of a dispute among adults—something they should not have to endure,” wrote Brizard. “While negotiations continue, I hope that we both agree that the safety of our children must come first.”
Chicago has 675 public schools with 402,000 students.
About 28,300 students attended the Children’s First school and partner sites, which could have accommodated 150,000, according to CPS.
Non-union school staff and people from nonprofit agencies supervised students at the sites. The Chicago Tribune reported that some parents and children felt reluctant to cross picket lines. It also reported that some parents were reluctant to leave their children with strangers.
Churches, park day-camps, and public libraries took care of thousands of young people. CPS reported that 4,300 students spent their days at nonprofit organizations, over 1,500 went to 59 Safe Haven faith-based organizations, 3,800 attended Chicago Park District sites, and over 2,700 used Chicago Public Libraries.
Brizard expanded the hours of the Children’s First open school sites to a full school day starting Sept. 12, after starting the week with abbreviated 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. hours. Those hours were chosen to ensure students could still get breakfast and lunch from the school system. In Chicago, 85 percent of students get free food at school.
According to the teachers, the dispute is as much about winning resources for their students as it is about their own working conditions.
Chicago teacher, father, and union organizer Brandon Johnson said that 202 nurses serve 600 schools, and though the nurses are union members, they are also required to serve charter schools, which stretches them very thin.
He said 160 schools have no libraries, and that students need counselors, social workers, and wraparound services.
Speaking about what would really work to reform education, Johnson said, “On the record, teaching and learning has to be fun again. Teachers have to be able to explore their students’ gifts … My student built a skeleton out of Q-Tips. He wasn’t being grilled about fibula and phalanges, but he got it. You’ve got to have a rich, broad curriculum, world languages, technology, full social studies.”
A number of schools in black neighborhoods are to be closed, and that would lead to disproportionate layoffs of black teachers, according to Johnson.
Johnson leads the Black Caucus of the teacher’s union. He said that black men make up only 1.7 percent of Chicago teachers, and the planned closures would reduce their numbers even more.
One of the areas of dispute is how to handle teachers who are displaced when their schools are closed. CPS may require principals with job openings to hire any laid-off teacher who was rated proficient.
Johnson said, “All this week we’ve been picketing,” and as a result he hopes the school board is becoming “a little more willing to acknowledge that teachers are experts on education.” He said Lewis “was a little more optimistic” by Sept. 13.
To him the strike was a last resort, and to him it was not primarily about money or hours.
“Our membership has been willing to forgo pay,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s the lack of respect, lack of dignity, lack of support; we’re asked to accept more and more disinvestment,” in schools, he said.
Though everyone is concerned about the students, he felt that striking was the right thing to do. “I’ve never been more proud to be a teacher than this moment,” said Johnson.
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