Officials from the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools have been behind closed doors most days this week, trying to reach a contract deal ahead of an Oct. 17 strike deadline.
Meanwhile, parents, students and Chicagoans are debating whether teachers should walk.
Below is an interview with WBEZ education reporter Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, who has been gauging the city’s appetite for a strike.
What are you hearing from parents, students and community groups?
I talked to community groups with strong parent ties across the city. I also talked to parents and students directly. Many of them are starting to worry.
Two other unions, representing Chicago Park District employees and CPS custodians and security guards, also plan to walk out on Oct. 17 if they can’t reach contract deals with city officials.
CPS says school buildings will remain open, with principals and non-union support staff supervising. But some parents don’t feel comfortable with that.
“Not only will students be wasting their time, working parents will have a hard time trying to find a safe place to drop off their kids,” said Consuelo Martinez, who has a junior at Back of the Yards College Prep High School.
Even for parents at home, it can be hard.
“We don’t want our kids at home for eight hours,” she said. “A mother who doesn’t have the right education and is taking care of other things at home, can’t give instruction to her own child.”
Like Martinez, other parents worry about kids missing class. The district said it does not expect to make up days missed due to a strike. High school juniors, for example, are getting ready for the SAT and say practicing at home isn’t the same. Students applying early for college also need help getting their applications ready.
I heard mixed things from parents about whether they fully support a teacher strike, with their opinion often based on their own experiences. Some parents are saying that teachers should take the 16% salary increase over five years being offered. The Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times published editorials recently saying the teachers should take the deal on the table.
But parents, mostly on the South and West sides, say they understand teachers are fighting for more than just salaries.
“I hope they could come to some type of agreement so that there is no strike, but if there is a strike, I support and understand their reasons,” said Katrina Adams, who has a third grader at a school near Chatham on the South Side.
What other issues are parents raising?
Many parents say they want equity in schools — especially those who have seen their schools struggle to bring in resources and support staff including nurses, librarians and school counselors.
CPS has pledged to hire more nurses, social workers and special education case managers, but it doesn’t want to commit in the contract, as the union is demanding. Jennie Biggs, communication and outreach director with the parent group Raise Your Hand, said her organization isn’t taking sides, but she understands why that type of promise needs to be in the contract.
“We understand this desire to put it in writing because it’s kind of the only thing we might all have to make sure that the schools have all of these clinicians that students need to be able to learn during the school day,” Biggs said.
What is the public mood like today compared to the mood in the build up to the 2012 teachers strike?
While there is a lot of support for teachers this time around, the outpouring isn’t as huge as it was back in 2012.
Back then, the city had a different mayor, Rahm Emanuel. He had done a number of things that angered teachers and parents. He closed mental health clinics, and he took away a promised 4% raise for teachers. He also implemented the longer school day and a longer school year — without much say from teachers. Parents were ready to come out and defend their schools and their teachers.
Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lighfoot, got elected with a ton of community support. Some parents say they definitely support the teachers, but they are waiting to see if Lightfoot gives them what they are asking for — especially when it comes to staffing issues.
“The majority of the people that I have heard from say they believe people on both sides are just gonna come to a compromise before all those other triggers have to be pulled,” said Maria Owens, whose grandson attends Jane Addams Elementary School.
Parents who’ve witnessed the consequences of school closures and budget cuts say they have high expectations for Lightoot.
“I would say to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, 'You have the opportunity to be different — and whether there is a strike or not, I think there has to be a commitment to righting the wrong that has been done and that commitment has to be done urgently,'” said Jitu Brown, a CPS parent and an activist with strong ties to parents in Bronzeville on the South Side.