Inside the Teachers Strike

by×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”400″ height=”300″ /> Teachers at Paul Robeson High School protest on the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike Monday, September 10. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Interviewed on the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union’s first strike in a quarter-century, Ron James, a history teacher at Hyde Park Career Academy, said he was out picketing because “We need to be out here.”

“I’m a teacher with a classroom full of kids that don’t have enough books,” James added. “We don’t have enough desks. Our kids are sitting around in chairs sharing books as I’m trying to teach them. I do the best with what I have and you want to cut what I have already. It’s asinine.

“We’re out here fighting not just for ourselves but for our brothers at the police department, the fire department and all other public workers.”

Public elementary and high schools are open in Chicago this week, but while city officials and union members negotiate over the teachers’ demands, only administrators and school personnel other than teachers are on hand to take care of any children parents bring in, and only from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Union Demands

CTU members want CPS officials to reduce class sizes for students, invest more money in public schools in low-income neighborhoods, give teachers, paraprofessionals and others a fair contract and stop charter school expansions, turn-arounds, and school closings, according to information passed out by some striking teachers.

Residents’ Journal spoke to a few of the teachers picketing outside Paul Robeson High School, 6835 S. Normal Ave., in the impoverished Englewood community and at Hyde Park Career Academy, in that middle-income South Side neighborhood.

Remus Ristim, a Spanish teacher at Robeson, said he was in solidarity with other teachers striking “for a number of issues,” which he said the union has been “struggling with for years.”

“It’s about time to have a positive change in our schools,” he added.

Chicago teachers striking outside of Edward W. Beasley Academic Center on the South Side on Monday, September 10. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

The Mayor Responds

In a rebuttal to the union made during a press briefing Sunday held at the Harold Washington Library, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters he was “disappointed” with the strike and tried to downplay the teachers’ concerns.

“This is a strike of choice,” Emanuel said. “It is absolutely unnecessary…and the issues are not financial. There are two other issues as it relates to the evaluation and the ability for principals to have the accountability they need to produce the results they need for our children in the schools.” Emanuel was flanked by CPS Board President David Vitale, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and others.

Vitale said during the press conference that there was no need to reduce classroom sizes because money was available to keep classroom sizes at their current levels.

Brizard said that “breakfast, lunch and activities” such as puzzles, games, arts and crafts will be offered to students who are dropped off to their respective schools.


Police Measures

Noting that “youth violence is skyrocketing” in predominantly low-income communities across the city, teachers union members want CPS to hire more social workers, nurses and other clinicians.

But to deal with the kids who are out of school during the strike, McCarthy said during the press conference with the mayor that he wasn’t really concerned about “flare-ups” in youth-related violence and crime because police officers will be deployed at the 144 public schools that are going to be open four hours a day. Police tactical teams will be working longer hours to protect the striking teachers and to preserve overall law and order.

“We’re taking officers who are on administrative duty, we’re shutting down administrative duties. We’re putting those officers on the streets,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy added that there would be “safe havens” available at churches, parks and libraries for students out of school during the strike.

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