Inside the Chicago Teacher Strike: Sights & Sounds From the First Days

By Meghan Gallagher | October 18, 2019

By Meghan GallagherOctober 18, 2019

Updated Oct. 22

Tuesday marks the fourth day of canceled classes for more than 300,000 Chicago Public School students as the teacher walkout continues. With no deal in sight, the strike is a day longer and one presidential candidate stronger, with a visit from Elizabeth Warren.

The former public school teacher has shared her support for the strikers before, posting a video Sunday urging them to stay strong. She is among several Democratic presidential candidates backing the walkout, which began Thursday.

On Tuesday morning, she brought her campaign to the picket line outside Oscar Depriest Elementary School, accompanied by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. 

Warren unveiled a plan Monday that calls for pumping $450 billion into public education with a proposed wealth tax and crackdowns on charter school funding.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s walkout continues despite the letter the district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s sent Monday, asking for teachers and staff to end their strike and return to work with the promise of continuing to bargain with the same urgency. 

Monday, picketing recommenced with a Twitter storm (and an actual storm).

The mayor and Chicago Public Schools sent a letter to the union Monday morning asking teachers to return to class before deal is reached, saying they will continue to bargain with the same sense of urgency. The district also shared an updated offer — but the union wasn’t having it.

Although there is no telling when class will be back in session, all Chicago Public Schools remain open as safe havens with food for students. Other contingency sites, such as YMCAs and the Salvation Army, also continue to serve and feed students.

In addition to class cancellations, there are special concerns for student athletes. The Illinois High School Association bans soccer and football players from competing in playoffs as long as their schools are on strike.

Participants and onlookers took to social media to share updates, praise, concern and/or disdain regarding the ongoing walkout. Here’s the roundup:

Local supporters marched along in solidarity while other prominent figures, including two of the Democratic presidential candidates, shared encouraging comments. A local poll taken on Wednesday showed that nearly half of the people surveyed support the strike, but that could diminish as time goes on and parents yearn for their children to get back to the classroom. Of note on the ABC7/Chicago Sun-Times poll, 75 percent of the 618 respondents said they do not have a CPS student, while just 25 percent identified themselves as CPS parents.

The deal CTU rejected was a five-year contract that would increase pay 16 percent, but the members are holding firm for demands, including additional staffing of librarians, nurses and bilingual educators, lowering class sizes and looking at affordable housing.

Throngs of teachers hit the picket lines demanding attention visually and audibly – chanting “Lori Lightfoot! Get on the right foot!” and a myriad of other rallying calls.

Meanwhile, the mayor made her presence felt at contingency sites for students.

The strike was met with this contingency plan: Classes are canceled for the duration, but all schools are open with meals and activities to provide a safe place for students. Numerous places throughout the district are also offering child care; however, some parents still feel that they are in a pinch — especially those whose children are not receiving their mandated special education services.

Younger voices were also present on the picket lines.

Critics challenge strikers’ intentions, suggesting greed and unreachable goals that lack students’ best interests. Chicago teachers, who are among the highest-paid in the country, insist that the fight is for more than a salary increase and that their pay isn’t, in fact, what it seems.

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It’s unclear when students will be reunited with their teachers in the classroom. CTU President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates made it apparent Thursday afternoon that it was highly unlikely a deal would be reached by the end of their first day on strike. They received this letter Friday morning:

Lead images: Getty Images

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