Parents of CPS Students Sound Off on Teachers Strike

Chicago teachers will strike Thursday after the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach a contract agreement. The strike will affect about 300,000 students. 

Officials say school buildings will be open for kids who need a place to go or food to eat, but many parents of CPS students are presumably scrambling to sort out child care arrangements for Thursday and possibly more days without classes.

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“Chicago Tonight” spoke to four parents of CPS students who feel differently about the negotiations between the city and its teachers union:

Brian Mullins from Black Community Collaborative, a newly formed community group, lives in the South Shore neighborhood and has one child in a CPS high school. Two of his children graduated from CPS schools. Mullins is a political consultant for the Citizens for Civic Education and the Black Voter Project.

What’s your stance? I don’t believe that the strike is going to help the education of black children here in Chicago. I think the strike itself has the potential to put kids in harm’s way, safety-wise, and cause issues for parents who have to find a place for their child to go or get transportation to get to the schools that are open if the buses aren’t running.

What’s your plan for tomorrow now that classes are cancelled? I work from home, so my son is able to have a place to stay. So he’ll be with me tomorrow to stay home from school. We’re in good shape, but unfortunately I think a lot of other parents will be put in different situations. 

What is the Black Community Collaborative? It’s a group that formed a little bit over a month ago with the goal of educating parents and educating voters and residents of the black community regarding issues that are important to us without being told or pushed around by unions, for example. 

We started watching the Chicago Teachers Union bringing together black students and black parents at press conferences and bring teachers into black schools talking about their narrative. So we formed to say, ‘Hey, it’s time for us to step up and take control of our own community and the narratives that are pushed into our communities so we can help people understand what’s best for our own community.’

Katrina Adams from the education policy nonprofit Kids First Chicago lives in the South Side neighborhood of West Chesterfield and has one child in a CPS elementary school. Adams works in low-income communities for S.T.A.R.R. Community Services. 

What’s your stance? I most definitely support the teachers when it comes to the reasons they want to go on strike. I understand their need for social workers, support staff as well as smaller class sizes. I think that’s important because we hold teachers up to such a high expectation, but if they don’t have the resources that they need to actually provide that education, to help the kids in the way that they need, it doesn’t work.

I understand when it comes to nurses and social workers – they’re very important. There are a lot of things going on in kids’ lives, and I feel they need those services so the teachers can go further in teaching.

I commend [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] on the job she’s doing in being open and negotiating the contract, but I do understand that she just got into this position. A lot of these issues she’ll need to get familiar with. I feel like she’s doing what she can because she still has to run a whole city. She’s doing what she can to negotiate and to bargain the contract so both sides are happy. 

What’s your plan for tomorrow now that classes are cancelled? I know not having school will be hard for a lot of parents that work. My plan so far is to keep them home. If I have appointments, I’ll see if I can have my mom watch them.

Melinda Young from Kids First Chicago lives in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and has three children who attend a CPS elementary school. She works in marketing for the asset management company Nuveen. 

What’s your stance? I am very sympathetic to our teachers’ needs for more resources in the classrooms. I know that we have a lot of struggles right now. I feel like as a parent, we’re kind of stuck in the middle. From the research that I’ve done, I understand there’s been four independent parties that endorsed taking the CPS offer that’s on the table today. And so, I question how we’re going to move past this and come to a conclusion and get our kids back in school.

When I’ve talked to the teachers in my elementary school, I find that they’re very sympathetic to this. If I look from their position, they feel that this is a crisis and that some of these serious issues need to be addressed. I would say that I personally don’t qualify for any special services because of the lack of resources that we have in CPS, and I know that our own school has faced struggles with classroom overcrowding and availability of special resources like our nurse and social worker.

I’ve seen the budget at a high level from CPS and I know where there money has been allocated and where it’s going. One of the hardest things is that we haven’t been able to fully fund the teachers’ pension, and I know that despite all the work that’s been done downstate to try to help address that shortfall, we’re still in a place where, while healthy, we’re still not out of the woods. So I believe that in the end, we’re going to find a good solid ground and good agreement in place, but it’s a very painful process. 

What’s your plan for tomorrow now that classes are cancelled? Tomorrow, I have put my children in a work stoppage camp that’s being held by a kids’ soccer program, and on Friday I’d be staying home from work.

Julie Dworkin from the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers lives in Logan Square and has two children in CPS schools. She is the policy director for the nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

What’s your stance? I support the teachers, and I think the strike is the best leverage that they have at this point in time to try to get the things that they want to try to help and improve the schools. Nobody wants a strike but, I’m going to support the teachers if they strike.

I think the teachers’ demands are fair and they’re the right things that are going to help make our schools better.

I think that if this was a priority, then the resources would be there to fund schools. I think the mayor ran on a platform of providing quality education and creating equity in schools. We’re siphoning off a lot of money with these giant [Tax Increment Financing distrcts]. We could do a TIF surplus this year, which would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the schools. We could institute an employer head tax, which was something in place under Mayor Daley that Mayor Emanuel eliminated. There are ways to generate the revenue. There are ways to create new revenue sources.

I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure to come to an agreement. It seems like in the last couple of days, things have been moving in the right direction. I think both sides are making concessions, and I just don’t think we’ve quite gotten across the finish line. But I’m hopeful that maybe they’ll only be out this week and go back on Monday. You never know.

What’s your plan for tomorrow now that classes are cancelled? My daughter’s in high school; she’ll be on her own. My son, I really haven’t figured that out – it’s probably going to be some combination of working from home, bringing him to work and swapping childcare with other parents.

Katrina Adams, Julie Dworkin, Brian Mullins and Melinda Young join us in discussion.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

Related stories:

‘There Will Not Be School Tomorrow’: Lightfoot Believes CTU Will Strike

Contract Bargaining Wraps Up With No Deal Between CTU, Board of Education

CPS Teachers, Staff Rally and March as Strike Countdown Continues

What Chicago Families Need to Know About Possible Teachers Strike

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