Members of the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike on Thursday as 27,000 educators began picketing near schools at 6:30 a.m. The strike leaves 300,000 students unsure of when they will return to school.
The union listed thirteen demands on its website, which include salary raises for all school employees, smaller class sizes, and hiring more support staff such as teacher’s assistants.
“Our students deserve smaller class sizes. They deserve nurses. They deserve social workers. They deserve bilingual educators,” special education teacher Linda Perales told CNN.
School social worker Emily Penn said teachers face a continuing struggle to work in neighborhoods with socio-economic difficulties.
“Our students suffer from trauma. They suffer from so many things they need help coping with,” Penn commented, adding that some students even face the threat of death “by suicide and by guns. This is a fact in Chicago.”
75 percent of Chicago students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and many depend on schools to provide meals. Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Janice Jackson said schools will remain open during the strike to provide “breakfast, lunch, and supper,” but that school buses will not be running.
While students are not required to attend school, administrators are encouraging families to send their children anyway. Administrative and non-union staff will be working.
The Chicago Board of Education had put forward a series of proposals on Friday to avoid a strike, without success.
“We have tried to provide the best deal that’s fiscally responsible — that’s fair to teacher and fair to taxpayers,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, calling the offer “the best in the Chicago Teachers Union’s history.”
The deal includes a $1 million investment toward reduced class sizes and a 16 percent pay raise for all school employees.