CHICAGO — For the third day in a row, more than 350,000 students are left without classroom instruction as 29,000 teachers and support staff continue to march on citywide picket lines.
Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go,” fill the air as supporters in red shirts flood the streets of Chicago.
Talks ended Tuesday evening with no agreement reached between the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), but with a new offer presented that would include concessions on recalls and performance evaluations, reported NBC 5 Chicago.
Top issues on the table during the first CTU strike in 25 years have revolved around salaries, benefits, job security and teacher evaluations, the latter being the most controversial topic. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel insists that teachers should be rated by students’ performance, including on standardized tests –-a hot debate in the education reform discussion now – the union is adamantly opposed to the proposed evaluation system.
The CTU says the proposed system doesn’t paint the full picture, nor does it take into consideration external socioeconomic factors that may prohibit a child from performing well on a standardized test.
“We are miles apart because this is a very serious ideological difference here,” CTU president Karen Lewis told reporters Tuesday.
For many children in crime-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago, “being educated is the last thing on their mind. Survival is the first thing on their mind,” said Leon Hudnall, 58, a retired principal of Rezin Orr Academy High School located on the city’s west side. That, Hudnall says, and CTU supporters agree, can severely impact a child’s performance in the classroom.
“It’s a bit unfair that north side schools have fabulous conditions and on the south and west sides, conditions are deplorable, but they all have the same expectations,” he said. During the strike, Hudnall is heading up a branch of the CPS’s Safe Haven program at a church in the East Garfield Park community.
Picketing outside of the Chicago Public Schools headquarters was John Kugler, the citywide coordinator for the Chicago Teachers’ Union. He represents clinicians in the school system who offer “wraparound services,” which include psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, vision and hearing testers, “services that the whole child needs to perform well in school,” he said.
With the uptick in weekend violence, the demand is even higher on clinicians, Kugler said. “The schools where these kids are, are where the kids go back to on Monday morning and they don’t have the opportunity, chance or resources to actually give treatment to each one of these children.” Kugler continued, “We’re talking about some of the poorest communities, some of the most at-risk communities. That’s what we’re fighting for.”
Linda Stewart, 52, is a nurse at five schools in the CPS system. “I cannot support the children as well because I’m only at each school one day a week,” Stewart said. Stewart is advocating for CPS to hire more nurses, provide administrative assistants to keep better track of health records and increase the budget for supplies. “I had to buy my own band aids before,” she said, and “I’ve bought other supplies as needed.”
Several parents have marched picket lines in support of their children’s teachers and school support staff. Others showed their support by staying away from the schools and taking their children elsewhere. West side resident Ticina Cutler, 32, has three sons in the CPS system. She’s taking her sons to her church where she works with the neighborhood CPS Safe Haven program. “I don’t want to cross any picket lines,” she said. “I support the teachers.”
Ryan Berba, 27, is a teacher at Morgan Park High School on the city’s south side and said the overcrowded classrooms are among his biggest concerns. He said some of his classes have more than 35 students. “Sometimes I’m thankful for that, because I’ve heard of other teachers with close to 42 kids in the classroom with no air conditioning, said Berba.” Additionally, the CTU has requested air conditioner in schools. “When the classroom hits 95 plus degrees, it’s not a good learning condition for them,” Berba said.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has dispatched extra police help from offices to ensure students’ safety during the strike. As supporters continue to march, 144 schools will remain open to serve students breakfast and lunch and provide a safe haven. After numerous complaints about the sites closing at 12:30 p.m., the school district announced Tuesday that they would be staying open until 2:30 p.m. in future. A host of other churches, museums and community organizations, including the YMCA, are open for half and full-day programs during the strike.
Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung