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CPS says schools will remain open if teachers walk out

Pedestrians walk past the green silhouettes of children displayed on the glass windows at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters Tuesday, April 21, 2015 on West Madison Street in Chicago. (Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune)

Juan Perez Jr. and Grace WongContact ReportersChicago Tribune

Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday it will keep schools open for students if teachers go on strike, as negotiators prepared to resume contract talks with less than a week to go before a threatened walkout.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which has said its members will strike if a tentative agreement can't be reached, plans to go over goals for a new contract and details of a possible strike at a meeting of union delegates Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a group of CTU allies crowded outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to show support for the union's contract demands and call on the city to provide more money to the cash-strapped district.

"Enough of blaming our teachers, enough of making our children's education a political game" said Ana Centeno, a CPS parent and member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

"The fight isn't against our teachers, it's not to fill their pockets with money," Centeno said in Spanish. "The fight is to create a public education system of equality and quality for everyone."

Several parents interviewed as they picked up their children from school Tuesday afternoon said they were worried about the potential for a strike and its effect on their children's education.

"No strike," parent Kowanna Henderson said after the dismissal bell at Dett Elementary School on the Near West Side. "The kids need to be in school; parents need to work."

"I'm for the teachers. They need to get paid." Henderson said. "But they need to come to a solution."

CPS unveiled a strike contingency plan for students that in addition to keeping schools open would involve park buildings and libraries. The school board has budgeted up to $15 million for the plan. The district suggested, as it has in past teacher walkouts, that families keep students at home "or at a non-CPS facility" in the event of a strike.

Students would be able to spend strike days at any school — with high school students required to report to high schools and elementary school students to elementary schools — and receive two free meals, the district said.

The Chicago Transit Authority plans to offer students free rides between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. "for the duration of any strike," CPS said. Safe Passage routes will operate as normal during a strike.

Students who do show up at school during a strike would be supervised by CPS employees who aren't CTU members. All extracurricular activities, including sporting events, would be canceled.

The district said that even if there's a strike, it expects to have enough student attendance days to meet the minimum state requirements so makeup days won't have to be scheduled. But CPS acknowledged it would begin to lose state aid if a strike stretches beyond seven regularly scheduled school days.

Tension over a strike wasn't limited to district-run schools. Teachers at the UNO Charter School Network, among the largest of Chicago's largest charter school operators, planned to begin a strike-authorization vote Wednesday.

UNO's teachers are represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers, but have received organizational and legal help from the CTU. No strike date has been set for the charter network.

With the CTU's strike date set for Tuesday, several parents said they were in a tough position.

Paul Gustafson, of Lakeview, who has three children at LaSalle Elementary School in Old Town, called the strike a "no-win situation for both sides."

"I understand the position of the teachers but I also understand we're in a system where we're trying to find more money to cover it and, yet again, I also believe that there is a lot of waste in CPS that can be fixed, but how they're going about it, it's a struggle," Gustafson said Tuesday.

Outside Dett Elementary School, Felicia Hall said she would spend time with her children at the local library if there's a strike. But she's also thinking about following a course taken by other parents she knows: pulling her kids out of CPS.

"If it gets to the point where CPS strikes for too long, I'll have to work hard to put my kids in private school," she said. "If it leads to that, I'll just have to do it.

"I'm just hoping that things will get better."

Posted in Parent Engagement, News, Education