Teachers strike update: Chicago’s students could be back in class Monday

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In one of the most promising moves during the Chicago Teachers’ Union strike that has over 26,000 teachers picketing, officials say 360,000 students could be back in class Monday.

After an afternoon session Friday, Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis said its House of Delegates will review the impending contract changes by Sunday, when they’re expected to vote on whether or not to end the strike.

“We have a framework for an agreement,” Lewis said, “but we want to have language for that agreement.”

Lewis said delegates’ charge is to now decide whether or not to suspend the strike.

“We don’t have a contract yet,” she said, so delegates will go over the tentative agreement and “get all the language worked out so we have something to give to our delegates for them to make a decision on whether to suspend the strike or not.”

Stating that the CTU “had been burnt” by the CPS board before, Lewis said ”Delegates are not interested in blindly signing off on something. The key is that what we’re trying to do is provide language to our delegates that explains the terms.”

Lewis, however stressed that “At this moment, the strike is not suspended. I want to be clear about that because there’s a process.”

As both sides continue to meet with their teams through the weekend, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard released a statement Friday afternoon on contract negotiations, saying,  “We have a framework in place for a fair agreement that we believe is good for our teachers, students and taxpayers and look forward to our kids getting back to the classroom.”

Robert Bloch, CTU’s attorney said his team of negotiators was “hopeful that we will have a complete agreement to present to the union’s House of Delegates by Sunday.” If the delegates vote to suspend the strike, “students can return to school on Monday.”

Bloch remains positive about having an agreement by Sunday, and said he hopes that union delegates “will have the confidence in that agreement and that they will vote to suspend the strike.”

CPS board president David Vitale also gave off positive vibes about the strike ending. “I’m pleased to tell you that we have in place the framework around the major issues,” Vitale said. “We have more work to do here. The heavy lifting is over. The general framework is in place,” reported WGN-TV.

Also upbeat, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the tentative framework is “an honest and principled compromise that is about who we all work for: our students,” according to WGN-TV. “It preserves more time for learning in the classroom, provides more support for teachers to excel at their craft, and gives principals the latitude and responsibility to build an environment in which our children can succeed,” he said.

CTU and CPS officials declined to comment on any specifics of the framework.

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 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.

As CTU supporters march into the 5th day of the strike Saturday, they will rally in  Union Park on the West side of Chicago. Union delegates will reconvene Sunday for a vote on whether or not to end the strike. Out of almost 800 delegates, Lewis says “just a simple majority” is needed to pass the vote.

Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung