Students attending Chicago Public Schools recently had a three-day break thanks to the Labor Day holiday.
But come Sept. 10 students could be on a longer break from school if the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district cannot come to terms on a new contract.
A strike would be devastating, said Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for CPS. As the nation’s third largest school district with 402,000 students and 675 schools, a strike would affect more than 300,000 students, according to Carroll.
“CPS has been working on a plan for the last several weeks that would allow the District to provide our kids with essential services they need in the event that the Chicago Teachers Union decides to strike,” explained Carroll. “[However] it’s premature to release details of a plan at this time, as the Chicago Teachers Union has not yet announced that they plan to strike. [But] if the CTU should issue a notice to strike, we will release our plan in order to get the process going so that parents and kids know what services will be available in their communities and where.”
However, a strike would not affect charter schools because their teachers are not members of the CTU. And since October 2011 the majority of the students now attending CPS are Hispanics after years of blacks being the majority, according to CPS data.
The last strike occurred in 1987 and lasted 19 days. CPS officials said they have developed a contingency plan as a backup. The school district plans to keep open 145 schools from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students would receive two nutritional meals a day and the option of participating in several different activities.
Additionally, the “Children First” plan includes:
*Sites are selected based on the size and location of the building, with preference given to those with strong leadership, air conditioning, a gym and cafeteria, computer labs and proximity to public transportation.
*While instruction will not be provided, students will participate in positive activities to keep them engaged, including independent reading and writing, arts and journaling, sports activities, computer-based programming, among others.
*Elementary and high school students would attend separate designated facilities to address their unique needs.
*Staffing open sites with Central Office staff and other non-CTU employees as well as organizations, who will be invited to submit a request for proposals, to help staff schools.
*Staff-to-student ratio would be capped at 1 to 25.
*Providing daily nutrition services to all students attending a site, including breakfast and lunch.
*Partnering with other city agencies to provide additional options for families and children such as:
*Extending 70 to 80 Chicago Park District summer camps, and providing students with online learning opportunities at 79 Chicago Public Libraries.
*Working with the Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Police and Fire Departments to ensure safety and provide additional services.
The ultimate goal, said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, is to come to terms on a fair contract.
“We do not want to strike but have been forced into this position,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which has 26,000 members including athletic coaches. “It is our intent to negotiate with the school board everyday until midnight Sunday when a final decision will be made about whether to strike.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose three small children attend a private school on the South Side, said he too wants to avoid a strike and is hopeful a deal can be reached to keep children in school now that they are getting use to a longer school day.
“I am very concerned that children will be out on the streets with nothing to do at a time when we are seeing more gun violence against youth,” Emanuel told quadrust.com. “Teachers are the very fabric that hold our communities together. For without them much of world would not have an identity. We owe teachers a lot for the sacrifices they have made for our children. All I am asking is that they continue to make those sacrifices and remain in the classroom while negotiations continue.”
Parents of small children said the proposed contingency plan does not go far enough.
“I depend on CPS to provide an all-day learning experience for my daughter. This allows me to work knowing she is somewhere safe,” said Oliva Mendez, whose eight year-old daughter attends CPS. “Having the schools open for until noon does parents with small children no good because we still have to find someone who can pick them up. If the schools could remain open until three o’clock that would be better for parents and students.”
Nina McGowan has a seven year-old son who attends CPS. She said dropping him off at eight-thirty in the morning is a waste of time and bus fare if she has to turn around four hours later and pick him up.
“Some contingency plan. Four hours and that’s it. Why not keep the school open all day with other staff since they will continue to get paid during the strike?” she said.
Carroll said all CPS employees would continue to be paid except teachers if a strike occurs.