Community groups offer ‘safe havens’ for kids during Chicago teachers strike

CHICAGO - As the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike enters its fourth day, the nearly 400,000 students, and their parents, have been left in limbo with 'nothing to do' during the standoff...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

CHICAGO – As the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike enters its fourth day, the nearly 400,000 students, and their parents, have been left in limbo with “nothing to do” during the standoff. With the unexpected days off – and no end in sight – many parents have had to come up with alternative options for childcare around the city, especially in its poorer neighborhoods.

“When we looked at this strike, we kind of knew the storm was coming,” said Juandalyn Holland, the executive director for Teamwork Englewood, a community organization on the city’s South Side. “I think it caught everyone by surprise because there hasn’t been a strike in 25 years. When the strike happened in 1987, I was in the eighth grade.”

This is the 10th strike by the Chicago Teacher’s Union since 1969. The 1987 walkout was the longest in the city’s history – 19 days, ending on Oct. 4, 1987. The fear is that this current strike could wage for weeks.

“When we look at the climate today of education and all those things, we have to be mindful that children who are behind now are children who are truly behind the 8-ball,” Holland said. “The catch-up curve is tremendous. Anything you do for three weeks straight can turn into a habit.”

“That’s the fear, especially with what’s going on in these urban areas. After a month, if they get used to not coming to school, then what is the likelihood of them coming back.”

Englewood is one of many Chicago neighborhoods that have been plagued by violence in 2012. Chicago has seen a 32 percent uptick in homicides this year, often with incidents of shootings coming fast and furious throughout the city.

On Sept. 4, Englewood was the scene of the death of 18-year-old up and coming rapper Joseph “Lil’ JoJo” Coleman, who was murdered while riding his bicycle near the corner of 69th Street and Princeton Avenue. Teamwork Englewood is helping CPS attempt to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble during the strike and after it ends.

“You always gear up and get ready for school,” Holland said. “You have the back to school parades, the after school programs; you have everything. When it comes to a halt, it’s like your world changes. We just want to make sure that it stays as copacetic as possible.”

When the teachers announced that they were striking, the Chicago Public Schools announced that they had opened nearly 150 schools to accommodate students who were to receive free breakfast and lunch. The sites faced low turnout from families due in part to schools only being open until 12:30 p.m., which would lead to parents having to leave work early to pick up their kids.

“Since the [Chicago Teachers Union] chose to strike on Sunday, parents are seeking greater support, and we have responded by increasing hours to more closely mirror a traditional school day,” Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a statement. Around the city on Tuesday and Wednesday, kids could be seen on basketball courts, as well as hanging out in front of corner stores and on street corners. Many others simply hung out and played video games with friends at their homes.

“When I polled the kids this morning they said ‘Well, I went up to the school, and I go to Kershaw, and they told me that I have to go to Mays (Elementary School),’” Holland said. “But then one kid would say that he didn’t hear anything.”

Holland also said that if the strike goes into next week, that they would hire tutors to help kids with math and language arts. The strike looks like it will not be reaching a quick end anytime soon, and it is even affecting athletics as all CPS school sports programs – including football – have been suspended until the strike ends.

On Tuesday, thousands of teachers turned out in a massive rally in downtown Chicago, starting in front of the Chicago Board of Education headquarters and later marching though the streets. The massive throng of teachers, parents, and students were all clad in red, leading chants such as “Rahm Emanuel’s got to go,” and drew numerous signs of solidarity from passers-by.

The atmosphere was at times as lively and as raucous as a Mardi Gras parade, but quickly turned very serious when the subject of teachers getting what they need came up.