Chicago Public Schools Teachers and Staff Strike, Stand Up For ‘Equity’

Following citywide class cancellations for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as a result of a teachers union strike for better pay and resources for students, educators picketed outside schools and gathered for a rally downtown Thursday.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is calling for better pay and benefits, fully staffed schools, smaller class sizes and justice for students and families, including affordable housing and sanctuary schools, according to the union’s website.

More than 7,500 CPS staff with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 — another local teacher’s union — also went on strike after unsuccessful bargaining with city officials. The SEIU on strike includes special education classroom assistants, bus aides, custodians and security officers, according to a press release on SEIU’s website.

After organizing at more than 500 schools across the city, thousands of teachers and staff gathered for a march outside of the CPS headquarters (42 W. Madison St.) near the Loop in the afternoon. 

Classes have been cancelled Friday as negotiations continue, according to a tweet from CPS.

Daniel Washco, a ninth grade English teacher at Richard T. Crane Medical Preparatory School on Chicago’s West Side, said educators are gathering to ensure students are getting the resources they need.

“We are here to stand up for equity in classrooms across the city and to ensure our students in every classroom have every opportunity to learn and succeed,” Washco said.

CPS schools are short on nurses, social workers, librarians, special education teachers and English language learning teachers, according to a press release on the CTU website. The school district has fewer than 115 nurses for more than 500 schools, according to the release. 

Brittany Barker, a teaching assistant in a second grade classroom at Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Paideia Academy in Chicago’s South Side, told The Phoenix the nurse is only at school one day a week.

“We’re working just as hard, even overtime that we’re not getting paid for,” Barker said. “We still have to grade papers, we still have to make sure that the students have everything they need in the classroom and the mayor [doesn’t] want to give it to us. She doesn’t want to give us the pay.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ran on a campaign which pushed for the improvement of the school system, including adding more staff to schools, but the CTU said her negotiating team has rejected proposals to fix issues at the bargaining table.

“Over the past few months, the district has been working with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to present our educators and school support staff with fair contract offers that honor the hard work they do for our schools every single day,” CPS officials said in a press release.

The state of Illinois created an equity-based school funding formula in 2017 — which aims to send more funding to students with the least resources — and began sending CPS more than a billion additional dollars a year to remedy some of the prevalent issues, but the union said CPS is investing less in classrooms this year despite a record budget, according to the press release on the CTU website. It’s unclear exactly what these funds are going to.

Classes are canceled across the city until CPS officials and the unions can reach an agreement. School buildings are still open with administrative office staff supervising students, the release from CPS said. Schools will serve breakfast, lunch and a take-home dinner, according to the release.

Other libraries and park district sites are open and CTA transportation is free for students, the CPS release said.

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