Some 350,000 Chicago schools students kept from class on the first day of a teachers’ strike remained in limbo at day’s end, with no news of a new contract between the teachers union and the school district.
The strike launched Monday by 26,000 teachers and support staff highlighted a bitter standoff between teachers and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who is pushing reforms on the city’s schools, the third-biggest public school district in the nation.
Teachers dressed in red T-shirts rallied in front of the Chicago school district offices in the center of the city, breaking through barriers and spilling onto the streets, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Hey Rahm, how many kids in your child’s classroom?” read one sign at the district offices, according to the Tribune reported. Some in the crowd chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm Emmanuel has got to go.”
Emmanuel derided the union action, calling it “a strike of choice. And it’s the wrong choice for our children. It’s totally unnecessary, and we need to finish the job.”
He urged both sides to “stay at the table and finish it for our children,” but refused to bend on two key issues at the heart of the standoff: allowing principals the right to choose teachers and teacher evaluations that are based in large part on student test scores, the Chicago Sun Times reported.
The walkout came after a weekend of unsuccessful eleventh-hour contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago’s public schools.
On the first day of the strike, parents in Chicago scrambled to find accommodations for their kids.
As the two sides went back to the table on Monday morning, many parents dropped their children off at 144 contingency locations, “Children First” sites that the school district was keeping open for half days during the strike, allowing some parents to work.
Dozens of churches and community organizations also opened their doors to students for at least part of the day.
John Harvey and Sarah Vanderstow were dropping off their 7-year-old son, Aiden, at the Disney Magnet School, but they were nervous because it was unfamiliar to the second-grader, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Vanderstow said they had no choice because their usual school, Nettelhorst, was closed.
“I don’t know who these people are who will be watching him and that concerns me,” she said, according to the Tribune. “But I have to go to work and we can’t afford to pay for him to go somewhere else all day.”
Another parent, Vicente Perez, who spoke to the Tribune decided against dropping his fourth- and sixth-grade sons at a contingency location when he realized they would have to cross a line of picketing teachers, which scared the boys. Perez and his wife decided to take their children to a church, or just keep them home, the report said.
The union has called the plan to care for children during the strike a “train wreck.” It warned that caregivers for the children do not have proper training, and there are fears of an increase in gang-related violence in some high-crime areas.
The union and school district negotiated throughout Monday, but when school board president David Vitale emerged from the talks, he said no agreement had been reached, Reuters reported.
“We have said to them (the union) again that we believe we should resolve this tomorrow, that we are close enough to get this resolved,” Vitale said. The teachers union did not immediately respond to a request for reaction to Vitale’s comments, according to Reuters.
The strike follows more than a year of slow, contentious negotiations over salary, health benefits and job security, NBC Chicago reported.
The talks broke down not over pay, but over proposed reforms, Reuters reported, citing sources on both sides. The union opposed a proposal to make student test scores a key factor in teacher evaluations, the report said. They also opposed a move to give principals more control over hiring, which could undermine the seniority system that protects long-time teachers.
“We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said.
Source: NBC News