About 300,000 students missed a fourth day of classes Tuesday as the Chicago Teachers Union and city officials blame each other for prolonging the teachers’ strike.
As the stalemate continues, some students are playing board games or making origami instead of learning in class — and some parents are torn about which side to support.
“I support both sides, but I think they need to come to a mutual agreement and give a little on both sides because they’re only hurting the kids,” said Dominique Williams, the mother of two teens on the city’s tough west side.
The union wants smaller class sizes, more support staff and higher raises for all educators. The city has offered some concessions, but said it can’t afford to meet all their demands.
Former teacher Elizabeth Warren joins the picket lines
Teachers got a boost of support Tuesday from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Everyone in America should support you in this strike,” said Warren, herself a former teacher.
“The reason is because when you go out and fight, you don’t just fight for yourselves. You fight for their children of this city, and the children of this country. I believe in public education. I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education.”
One of the greatest needs is for more social workers in schools. That’s especially true in Chicago, where many students struggle with poverty, violence and grief at a very young age.
“Everything is so different from the way it used to be. It seems like things are just getting more and more chaotic as the years go by,” Williams said.
“A lot of these kids do need help. … Some of these kids do need that social worker because they can’t talk to their parent. Or they can’t talk to their friend. So they’ll talk to that social worker because it’s a separate entity away from what they got going on.”
One school social worker said she has to split her time between four buildings and 1,039 students.
“I’m tired of telling kids that I can only be there 1 1/2 days of the entire week,” she said. “We can’t plan our crises according to when I’m there.”
Darian Martyniuk, the father of two elementary school students, said he appreciates what the teachers are fighting for. But they may be asking too much from Chicago Public Schools.
“While I think the teachers have some noble and worthy demands that need to be addressed, I think the union leadership is at best behaving cynically, at worst using whatever leverage they think they have to squeeze the most out of a system that doesn’t have anything left to give,” Martuniuk said.
“Additional staffing like librarians, nurses, counselors … there are legitimate teacher needs for more. But the union leadership doesn’t seem to understand the finance structure of CPS and how it is a limited pool of money. You can’t just keep raising taxes year after year because legally they can’t do that.”
‘I’m pissed,’ one mother says
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said even though she and the union want some of the same things, it’s time for the union to stop striking.
“There is a finite pot of money. We don’t have unlimited cash to keep funding the things that are aspirational and maybe things that, on values that we share,” Lightfoot said.
“We have to live within our means. That’s what the taxpayers expect of us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Williams, the mother who has two teens on the city’s west side, said the dueling sides need to stop bickering.
“I’m pissed at the fact that the kids have been out for so long,” she said. “They need their class time.”
During Tuesday’s bargaining, CTU Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson said 25 coaches took part in a “powerful meeting,” during which they called for more investment in equipment, uniforms and transportation and more pay for coaches. Union officials and schools officials also discussed class sizes and staffing, she said.
“There was progress but we’re still clear that we have not landed on just terms yet,” Johnson said. “We are clear that we’re looking for a substantial investment that addresses our members and students’ concerns.”
Johnson said picket lines will be suspended Wednesday as parents, teachers, students and allies plan to converge on downtown Chicago for a rally.
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Darian Martyniuk’s surname.