How Parents of CPS Students Are Coping With Canceled Classes

For the third day, parents across the city had to figure out what to do with their children who attend Chicago Public Schools.

Now that the strike is in full swing, divisions are emerging among those parents.

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Some fiercely support teachers and sympathize with their demands while others are worried about the district’s plan for no makeup days at the end of the school year.

We check in with four parents of CPS students who joined us last week ahead of the expected strike:

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.  

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. 

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.

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. 

Below, a Q&A with our guests.

We’re in day three of the strike. Has your stance changed? 

Adams: No. I still support the teachers. I’m actually not quite sure what’s holding up the negotiations now because I know the mayor’s said she can give all she can. So I’m not really sure what more do they want. I know they wanted to see it in writing, but I don’t know if that’s the hold up. … Evidently they feel like they haven’t gotten what they wanted.

Dworkin: My stance has not changed, in fact I feel more encouraged now that we’re three days into it because now we’re seeing that CPS is finally moving on some of the issues that are really important to schools. They’re moving on class sizes, support staff, addressing homelessness in schools. So to me, at this point, it’s even more important that the CTU stick to their guns and get as much as we can to improve the schools.

Mullins: My stance has not changed yet. I still believe that [teachers] need to take a deal and negotiate while [students] are in school. Let the negotiation team continue to negotiate on behalf of our children, but get the kids back in school.

Young: I don’t think my stance has changed. I think it continues to follow what I believe has been a real challenge for CPS and CTU. I think a lot of parents that I’ve heard from have demonstrated that there’s a great deal of frustration for parents right now – children, as well. In reading Mayor Lightfoot’s letter to the CTU, I share full concern in a lot of the things that she mentioned and a few other areas. 

What do you make of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s letter to the CTU on Monday, asking the union to resume classes amid negotiations?

Adams: I think it would be good for the students as well as the teachers because I know everyone needs to get paid. How long does the bargaining go for? But we strike for a reason and we haven’t gotten what we wanted, so I don’t know if that would help them in their situation from the teachers’ perspective.

Dworkin: That’s going to remove any leverage that the teachers union has right now and so I think that we all just have to stick together and share the pain to have real improvements in our schools.

Mullins: I think that’s a great idea. That’s the same thing we’re advocating. It is about the children. Negotiations have been 10 months long. There’s no reason to keep the children out of class. 

Young: I’d love to see that happen, although I believe based on the political nature of this strike, that’s probably not something they’ll even consider.

How have you been coping with the canceled classes?

Adams: I’m keeping my child at home because I don’t know how the schools will operate without teachers, with the organization and safety.

I know last week, I had a few additional kids at my house because their parents didn’t have a place to stay, so they asked if they could come on the days that I’m home. That was no problem. I feel like the parents want the strike to be over, but they understand the need for a strike.

Dworkin: So far friends have helped out a couple days. I think my parents are going to help one day this week. My husband is going to help one day and I’m going to be home a couple days. So we’re just piecing it together. 

Mullins: My son has been with me or his mother. He’s with his sister today. Luckily, he has a few safe places to go. It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s something we’re working out.

Young: It’s frustrating. So any flexibility I have has been taken up with my children. There are a myriad of camps out there, but they’re expensive and costly. I am leaving work and getting to work late and having to leave work early, which I know doesn’t bode well with my employer, even with some options of flexibility. And the expense of putting the kids into a camp environment is not something that I budgeted or planned for this year.

As a former teacher in Chicago’s south suburbs, can you empathize with Chicago’s teachers?

Adams: I most definitely empathize with the teachers. I remember negotiating contracts and things of that nature and it took a while and it seemed like although we got a raise, our insurance would go up the next year, so it’s kind of like you didn’t get a raise. You might get a raise of $33, but when your insurance goes up $27, you have maybe $5 or $6 additional.  

When I was a teacher, I was buying socks, shoes, paying for field trips – just going above and beyond to give my students what they need. I had to get a second job to kind of make up and do the things that I wanted to do. … I’m pretty sure nobody wants to go to a second job after dealing with maybe 20 to 30 kids. There must be a need for it because I can’t see anybody wanting a second job if they didn’t need that additional income to make up the things that they’re missing.

Is there a certain issue brought up by teachers that you think is crucial?

Dworkin: All of it is very important. I’ve been reading about the special education support and how those are really lacking in the schools and I feel like that’s a really critical issue for them to make progress on. There was a drowning in the last year or so of a special education student because they weren’t adequately supervised – and that’s one of the things they’re trying to increase, is staffing to support special education students.

Any predictions for how this situation will unfold?

Adams: I was hoping that it wouldn’t last long, but it seems like both sides are not budging. The collective bargaining negotiations feel like they’re coming to a slow halt.

Dworkin: My feeling about this sort of changes by the minute. It sounded over the weekend like there was a lot of progress being made and I was hopeful maybe schools would be open again tomorrow, but I guess we’ll have to see what the news is today. I’m not really sure.

Mullins: I’m thinking that we may see a lot of movement today. I think CTU is gonna start bending a little bit, in my opinion, so I think by the end of the evening, we should see some more press conferences coming out. I think it’s going to come to an end sometime soon.

Young: I’ve been hearing from parents that they believe now that now that we’ve gone into Monday, it’s gonna take several more days and I don’t know how much more urgency either side is going to feel if they’re making a little bit of progress each day. I also know that, for example, CTU – it was kind of hard for the mayor to take advantage of the negotiations because the CTU team is holding rallies and demonstrating. And while I firmly believe in the democratic process of demonstrating, if you’re not at the negotiation table, I take issue with that.

Related stories:

Lightfoot Asks CTU to End Strike Before Contract Agreement is Finalized

Chicago Teachers Strike Enters Day 3 as Monday Classes Canceled

What Happens If a Teacher Crosses a Picket Line and Goes to Work?

Parents of CPS Students Sound Off on Teachers Strike

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