News

School’s Out

A teachers’ strike in Chicago, Illinois, shuts down school for about 350,000 students

September 10, 2012
SITTHIXAY DITTHAVONG—AP

Public school teachers picket outside Amundsen High School on the first day of the teachers' strike in Chicago, Illinois.

On Monday, thousands of teachers left classrooms for Chicago’s first school strike in 25 years.  Classes were canceled for more than 350,000 students in the city’s public schools. The strike was announced Sunday at midnight after negotiations between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union failed.

Two Sides to Every Story

The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents and protects teachers, is protesting what they call unfair work conditions. Teachers say the biggest issues are health benefits, job security and poor classroom conditions. With picket signs in hand, they chanted: “We need teachers, we need books!”

The school district and the union had tried to resolve their disagreements for 10 months, but could not come to an agreement. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said it was a difficult decision they had hoped to avoid. “We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve,” Lewis said.

Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, says he would like talks to continue so children can get back in the classroom. “This is not a strike I wanted,” he said. “It was a strike of choice … it’s unnecessary, it’s avoidable and it’s wrong.”

What Do Students Do?

Teacher Jillian Connolly helps her daughter Mary with school work while picketing.

SCOTT OLSON—GETTY IMAGES
Teacher Jillian Connolly helps her daughter Mary with school work while picketing.

Parents spent Sunday worrying about how much their children’s education might suffer and where their kids will go while they’re at work. “They’re going to lose learning time,” said Beatriz Fierro, whose daughter is a fifth-grader on the city’s Southwest Side. “And if the whole afternoon they’re going to be free, it’s bad. Of course [we are] worried.”

The school distract has opened 144 of its 578 schools for part of the day to provide a safe environment and meals to children in need. Officials said schools would be open between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. so children who rely on free meals provided by the school district can eat breakfast and lunch. “We know that a strike will put a strain on many families, and no one will be hurt more by a strike than our students," the district said on its website.Parents spent Sunday worrying about how much their children’s education might suffer and where their kids will go while they’re at work. “They’re going to lose learning time,” said Beatriz Fierro, whose daughter is a fifth-grader on the city’s Southwest Side. “And if the whole afternoon they’re going to be free, it’s bad. Of course [we are] worried.”

Dozens of churches and civic organizations are opening their doors to provide activities for students. Some students expressed anger about the situation, blaming the school district for interrupting their education. “They’re not hurting the teachers,” says Ta’Shara Edwards, 16, who attends Robeson High School on the city’s South Side. “They’re hurting us.”


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