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City prepares for first school strike in seven years

Constantina Davis wants her daughter to go to high school on Thursday. The 35-year-old mom who lives on the west side of Chicago supports higher salaries for teachers but not a school strike that will force her daughter to stay home. 

“I don’t think they should strike,” said Davis, who works at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I feel sad for those who have younger children and don’t have a babysitter.”

The Chicago Public School district canceled classes and after school activities on Thursday in preparation for a potential strike by more than 25,000 teachers and 7,000 staff workers. The strike at the third largest school district in the country affects 300,000 children. Unions that represent teachers, security guards, bus aides, and custodians are pushing the city to reduce class size and hire nurses and social workers.

Lori Lightfoot, in her first term as mayor, has so far rejected the union demands, saying it would cost the city $2.5 billion. The city and Chicago Teachers Union have been negotiating through the weekend and into the first part of the week trying to avert a strike. Lightfoot accused the union of trying to bankrupt the city. The union has pushed back, saying her rhetoric doesn’t match what the city is actually presenting at the bargaining table. 

The union representing the city’s park district workers reached a deal late Wednesday, averting a strike that would have hugely impacted the city. The city’s parks and libraries typically offer camps for kids who aren’t in school. If both the teachers and park workers had gone on strike on the same day, parents would have had far fewer options for sending their kids to safe place. The Service Employees International Union Local 73 reached a tentative 4.5-year contract agreement. 

“Kids shouldn’t be punished because a compromise hasn’t been reached and neither should parents,” said Evelyn Langston who works for the Chicago Park Service at Grant Park. “If this strike lasts longer than five days there’s gonna be parents who lose their jobs because they had to stay home with their kids. That being said, these issues are important and teachers need better conditions, but they should consider the kids first.”

Chicago teachers last went on strike in 2012 and stayed off the job for seven days.

Alice Matcher, a lawyer in Oak Lawn, said she supports the strike this time but wants to see a compromise.

“I think they have a point about reducing class size and having assigned social workers and nurses into a school,” said the 68-year-old resident. “But these are in very poor neighborhoods and I think there should be a compromise somewhere in the middle. I agree with their point, this is a reason to have a strike.” 

Documentary filmmaker Ver Cummins has a son who attends South Loop Elementary School. It’s  good for the teachers to fight for better conditions, he said. 

Many churches, community centers, neighborhood clubs, and private schools are opening up to the public so people’s children can be in a safe environment amid the strike happening on Oct. 17. Many of these programs that are opening their doors will provide an after-care service for after school for a small fee depending on location.  Eighteen field houses in the Chicago Park District will be able to support children from 2 to 6 p.m. CPS has also included a safe place site locator where parents can go a find somewhere for their children to stay. The Jewish Community Center of Chicago in the Loop is offering an International Day and a Star Wars-themed day. The price of admission is $80 starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. The Wishcraft Workshop in the North Center neighborhood is providing a package deal for kids ages 5-12 and for teenagers 13+. Packages include a one-day drop-in option as well as a five-day package. 

Just For Kids daycare center in the Morgan Park neighborhood is providing care for children during the Chicago Public School Teacher strike. Sixty children have signed up to attend on Thursday, with 50 available spots still available. Pricing $38 for the day, the daycare will watch kids within the age of 3 and 14, but cannot support kids with special needs.

Shaunta Gray, a real estate broker from suburban Chicago whose husband is a Chicago Public School teacher, said all children should have access to quality education. “It’s sad to know that we are in a society where politics and budget are prioritized over humanity,” she said. “It is necessary to join forces together to fight for our undervalued and underpaid teachers.”

Kay Blackwell, a 32-year-old mother from the West Side, encouraged the two sides to find a compromise.

“I don’t understand why it is taking so much time for them to react to all of these issues,” Blackwell said. “Teachers are on the front line. I don’t have 10 years for them to fix the system. They’re hindering my children’s learning. They don’t have the money to push the kids so they can get their best education. A lot of parents are sending their kids to charter schools because they believe it’s the only way for their kids to succeed. It’s deeply upsetting.” 

Manuel Castillo, a 34 year old delivery driver from Wicker Park, was making a delivery to the 7-Eleven store on Adams Street in downtown Chicago. His daughter attends a local elementary school. 

“I believe teachers are in every right to strike,” he said. “After all, teachers are one of the most important resources to our society. And if they’re upset with their work environments, young children won’t be able to learn.”

CPS school buildings will be open during their normal bell schedule. Students who need a safe place to go are encouraged to attend their regular school, but are welcome at any CPS school that is appropriate for their age. Charter and contract schools will continue to operate on their normal schedules. All CPS schools will serve breakfast and lunch to students and send dinner home with kids.

After-school activities will be canceled. This includes — but is not limited to — sports, tutoring, field trips, Parent University activities, Local School Council meetings and other community activities.

Natasha Schaffer, a 36-year-old security officer, said she symphathezies with the teachers and with the city.

“They say our kids are the future, but teachers are struggling to provide since everything comes out of their pocket,” she said. “I believe Lightfoot is trying, but it’s not enough.”


Justin Anderson, Samantha Bull, Amanda Burris, Karina Hernandez, Annika Kuz, Meng-shin Lin, Marissa Laqui, Lia Marabella, Anthony Morgan, Darien Opperman, Cydni Payton, Angelina Perino, Vic Reardon, Savanna Thunder and Kayleigh Young contributed to this report. 

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