Chicago school district cancels some in-person classes as labor dispute flares

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – In-person classes in Chicago for pre-kindergarten and special education students were canceled again on Thursday as a labor dispute between teachers and school officials over the district’s COVID-19 safety plan remained unresolved.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), representing 28,000 public school educators, has been locked in negotiations with Chicago Public Schools for months over a plan to gradually reopen schools for in-person learning, including pandemic-related safety protocols.

With the nation’s third-largest school district aiming to reopen in-person classes for some elementary and middle students on Monday, the two sides have yet to come to an agreement. Rank and file members voted last week 71% in favor of staying remote and not going back into their schools until their demands are met.

Elementary and middle school teachers were due to report in person on Wednesday to prepare for Monday’s reopening, but only about a third of them showed up, the district said. It was uncertain how many reported to classrooms on Thursday.

“I am protesting the inequitable and unfair treatment of teachers, staff and scholars by CPS,” said Dwayne Reed, a fourth and firth grade teacher on the city’s South Side, who has not been in his classroom this week.

Earlier, CTU had warned that teachers will be ready to picket if the district disciplined any of those who failed to report to work on Wednesday.

In all, about 67,000 elementary and middle school students remain on the list to take at least some of their classes in-person, down from 77,000 who initially signed up for the option, according to CPS.

Similar labor disputes have unfolded across the country, pitting teacher unions against district officials over conditions for reopening, almost a year after the virus shut down schools for 50 million students nationwide.

The teachers’ union in Chicago says classrooms lack proper ventilation and that the district has failed to provide cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. The district says ventilation meets industry standards for classroom learning and that it would provide schools with adequate PPE.

The union has urged school and city officials to move quickly to vaccinate teachers. Inoculations are expected to begin in mid-February.

The district said on Wednesday in its latest proposal that it has offered to make accommodations for those teachers who have family members with medical conditions, and that it has expanded testing and prioritized vaccines for staff working in the hard-hit areas of the city.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

After 11 days, Chicago teachers strike to end as union, mayor reach deal

After 11 days, Chicago teachers strike to end as union, mayor reach deal
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago teachers will end their 11-day strike against the third-largest U.S. school system after their union and district officials reached a tentative settlement on Thursday of a labor battle that canceled classes for 300,000 students.

The five-year contract includes funding for more than 400 additional social workers and nurses, spending that the union argued was necessary to allow teachers to focus on curriculum, according to the union.

It was the second-longest in a wave of U.S. teachers’ strikes that played out across West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and California over the past few years, topped only by a three-week June strike in Union City, California.

Like the earlier walk-outs, Chicago teachers had pushed for more money to ease overcrowded classrooms and more support staff, in addition to seeking a wage increase for the district’s 25,000 teachers.

A tentative deal reached late on Wednesday fell apart when the two sides disagreed over how many missed school days for students – and days of pay for teachers – would be tacked onto the end of the school year. The agreement reached on Thursday calls for five, less than the 11 the union had sought, the union said.

It was an early test of first-term Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on improving the city’s schools but said the school district could not afford the sharp increases in spending on counselors and nurses that teachers sought.

“It was important to me that we got our kids back in class. Enough is enough,” Lightfoot said during a news briefing after the deal was reached. “I think it was the right thing for our city and I am glad this phase is over.”

Union members expressed frustration that Lightfoot had been unwilling to extend the school year by 11 days to make up for the lost classes. Pressure for a settlement had ramped up in recent days as teachers braced for their first paychecks reduced by the strike, as well as the prospect of health insurance expiring on Friday.

“This fight is about black children and brown children in the city of Chicago getting the resources in their school community that they have been deprived of for generations,” union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said during a news conference after the announcement.

The tentative agreement includes enforceable staffing increases of 209 social workers, amounting to one in each school, a case manager in each school and 250 additional nurses, the union said.

The district also committed to spending $35 million to reduce oversized classrooms and prioritizing schools that serve the most vulnerable students.

City officials did not immediately respond to questions about contract details. The union had sought a three-year contract.

Crowds of red T-shirted teachers took to Chicago’s streets during the strike’s two weeks, picketing some of the 500 schools across the city and holding rallies and marches in downtown Chicago.

Democratic presidential contender U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Oct. 22 joined the striking teachers on the picket line, and strikers also joined in protests against Republican President Donald Trump during his visit on Monday to Chicago.

The work stoppage forced officials to cancel classes, but school buildings stayed open for children in need of a place to go during the strike.

The strike angered parents and students, particularly the families of student athletes, as the walkout coincided with state-wide play-offs, which teams have competed for months to attend, and where college talent scouts look for candidates for athletic scholarships.

The strike came seven years after Chicago teachers walked out for seven days over teacher evaluations and hiring practices. In 2016, teachers staged a one-day walkout to protest the lack of a contract and failure to stabilize the school system’s finances.

Chicago resident Jackie Rosa thanked teachers for their “fearless fight” and courage in holding out for a deal.

“You put your bodies on the line to bring TRUE EQUITY to our children,” Rosa said on Twitter. “Chicago owes you everything.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Scott Malone, Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)

Chicago teachers strike hits ninth day as union, district bargain

Chicago teachers strike hits ninth day as union, district bargain
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The 300,000 students of Chicago’s public schools went a ninth day without classes on Tuesday as district officials and striking teachers returned to the bargaining table, where they are trying to hash out the union’s demands on class size, support staff and pay.

The strike, which began on Oct. 17, is the latest in a recent wave of work stoppages across the United States by educators who have called for more resources and emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.

It is the second-longest U.S. teachers’ strike in recent memory. A teachers strike in Union City, California, in June lasted three weeks.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents 25,000 teachers in the third-largest U.S. school district, and Chicago Public Schools officials were unable to agree on contract terms after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session that ended early on Tuesday.

Hours later, both sides headed back to the bargaining table, the district’s chief education officer, LaTanya McDade, said during a news briefing.

“We have put forward a strong, comprehensive package of proposals that meet the demands of the key priorities that the union identified,” she said.

McDade said the city has proposed to spend $25 million to address overcrowding in the district and another $70 million to hire support staff, such as nurses and social workers.

The union, which has been without a contract since July 1, voted this month to go on strike if a deal was not reached.

“The union has laid out a path for a settlement … this is still an opportunity for the mayor to enter into an historic agreement,” Robert Bloch, an attorney for the union, said during a news conference earlier on Tuesday.

Teachers have picketed in front of many of the district’s 500 schools and have held several rallies in Chicago’s downtown area during the strike.

The strike is the first major test for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a political newcomer elected in April. She has said the district could not afford the union’s full demands, estimating they would cost an extra $2.4 billion each year for an increase of more than 30% in the current $7.7 billion school budget.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago,; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)

No school for Chicago students; teachers strike enters second week

No school for Chicago students; teachers strike enters second week
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Classes for more than 300,000 students in Chicago were canceled for a third straight school day on Monday, although striking teachers reported progress over the weekend over issues such as class size and staffing in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third-largest U.S. system.

Some 25,000 teachers went on strike last Thursday after their union was unable to reach an agreement with Chicago Public Schools over pay, overcrowding in schools and a lack of support staff, such as nurses and social workers.

At a news conference on Monday morning, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said that over the weekend, the board of education gave the union written proposals about reduced class sizes and increased staffing.

But he said the board still had not met certain union demands, such as improved clinical services for students and staffing a school nurse in every school every day.

“We’re optimistic that this does not have to be long, but there does need to be a commitment of new resources,” Sharkey said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrote a column for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper on Sunday in which she noted her own background growing up in a disadvantaged school district, saying she understands how important educational equity is.

“I am disappointed that the Chicago Teachers Union has decided to strike,” she wrote. “I believe our contract offer is fair and respectful of the union’s leaders and their members. But my disappointment will absolutely not soften my resolve to reach an agreement.”

The strike is the latest in a recent wave of work stoppages in school districts across the United States in which demands for school resources have superseded calls for higher salaries and benefits.

In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.

Although the latest work stoppage has forced officials to cancel classes, school buildings are staying open for children in need of a place to go.

The strike comes seven years after Chicago teachers walked out for seven days over teacher evaluations and hiring practices. In 2016, teachers staged a one-day walkout to protest the lack of a contract and failure to stabilize the school system’s finances.

The district has offered a raise for teachers of 16% over five years, enforceable targets for reducing class sizes and the addition of support staff across the district, according to Lightfoot, who was elected in April.

Lightfoot has previously said the union’s initial full list of demands would cost the district an additional $2.5 billion annually.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Richard Pullin and David Gregorio)