Less than a week after the bulk of Chicago Public Schools students and parents started their back-to-school routines, from early morning wake-up to late-night homework supervision, it all came to a screeching halt when teachers hit the picket lines Monday.
Regardless of their feelings about the strike, parents and guardians frantically sought last-minute child care, pleaded with their bosses for leniency and hoped that their kids would return to school sooner rather than later.
In some cases, students and parents arrived at schools, unaware classes were canceled Monday. At other schools, parents were highly mobilized, developing babysitting co-ops and publicizing alternatives to the CPS-sponsored Children First strike contingency plan.
Citywide for thousands of families, stress was high and consequences were real in a situation with an abrupt, late-night beginning and an unknown ending.
“I might be losing my job over this,” said Martina Watts, 38, as she dropped her kids off at Hefferan Elementary in Garfield Park. “As long as they’re on strike, I can’t work. I’m not getting paid, either.”
Watts said the strike forced her to stay away from her temporary job as a machinist so that she could pick up her daughter, Trinity, and son, Jayvon, when the school closes early at 12:30 p.m.
More than six miles north, at Reinberg Elementary in Portage Park, Jasmine Rivera waited for three of her five children to exit the morning contingency school.
“Why would you start them and go on strike when you’ve been [negotiating] since November?” Rivera said.
Rivera said her youngest, twins in kindergarten, woke up at 6 a.m. every day last week excited to go to school. She didn’t want to stop that momentum and sent them to Reinberg though they normally attend Falconer Elementary.
“I don’t want to break the routine,” she said.
Not like 1987
In 2000, families with two working parents became the majority in the United States, placing this group of CPS parents in a potentially more challenging situation than those that navigated the last CPS strike, in 1987. The ongoing economic downturn has also placed more pressure on working, middle-class parents.
At Mount Greenwood School at 108th and Homan, several grandmothers came to retrieve the children at the contingency program, saying their daughters or sons couldn’t leave their jobs to do so. Pickup time for the schools in the program was 12:30 p.m.
Mom Janell Midderhoff raced from her job at Victoria’s Secret on Michigan Avenue to Mount Greenwood to get her two sons at the temporary day care program.
“I had to leave work early to make sure I get them by the 12:30 mark,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t go on for more than today. I can’t keep leaving work to get them.”
Complicating matters are the different schedules for the public and Catholic systems – and the fact that a number of Catholic schools may already be near capacity. The admissions process at Catholic schools can involve parental interviews, tours, and the submission of report cards – even from preschool or kindergarten, for younger children.
“People are kind of waiting to see what happens, if the strike gets settled,” said Martin McHugh, principal of St. Bart’s at Addison and LaVergne. “We’ve been in school for four weeks. A lot of public schools have been in session three or four days.”
‘Too good to be true’
Throughout the city, teenagers wandered the streets with their friends, enjoying a picture perfect September day in Chicago.
“I thought it was too good to be true – I didn’t think it was going to happen,” said Luis Garcia, 15, a sophomore at Schurz High School, of Monday’s strike. Garcia and buddy Christopher Kujawa, 18, a Foreman senior, were heading to Chopin Park on the Northwest Side to meet up with other friends who were not in school.
Levi Applebaum, 16, a Lane Tech junior, wandered with two friends near Bell on Monday morning. He said since CPS students could ride CTA buses for free on Monday, they planned to take advantage, possibly heading downtown.
“We’re walking around, we’ll take a few free bus rides,” he said.
Read more at CHICAGO SUN TIMES