Day Five: Woodlawn Community Elementary School
October 21, 2019
Francesca Mathewes and Marissa Nelson reported from Woodlawn Community Elementary School on Monday morning.
After a weekend of negotiations, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members went back to their picket lines across the city on Monday morning. Meanwhile classes were canceled for the third day in a row, though the buildings are still open, offering breakfast and lunch at the school and dinner for students to take home.
An agreement has still not been reached between CTU and the city, although Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to the continuation of the strike this morning by calling on teachers to return to school and end the strike while negotiations continue.
On Thursday, October 17, CTU members went on strike over contract negotiations for a variety of reasons — issues topping the list were overcrowded classes and a need for more support staff (including social workers, librarians and nurses in schools and lower caseloads for counselors). CTU members are also asking for paid prep time and affordable housing for students and their families.
Educators at Woodlawn Community Elementary School at the picket line Monday morning. (Marissa Nelson, 14 East)On Monday morning at Woodlawn Community Elementary School, a group of about ten educators stood outside the school building in the rain. Cars and buses honked in a near constant stream as the strikers, adorned in red, held signs and waved from the sidewalk.
Educators at the Woodlawn school discussed inequity and lack of services in the school system as the main focus points of the strike.
“We’re fighting for more than money. It’s for services. Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country. You’ve got some neighborhoods that have all of these services, parks, everything. But on the South and West sides, it’s disparity,” said Renee Salahuddin, a teacher at Woodlawn Community School.
Salahuddin talked about the mental, emotional and sometimes medical support that teachers in understaffed and under-resourced schools often have to provide to help students get through the day.
“I can’t be a psychologist, I can’t be a doctor or a nurse. I’m supposed to be teaching. I have to run around and find kids’ asthma medicine –– ‘two pumps please!’ –– I have to get training on that in addition to all of the other things we have to do,” she said. “Can you imagine you’re having to do that before you can even teach? Calm someone down because they didn’t get any counseling about [trauma regarding] a parent or family member? We have to build that into curriculum. It’s really a lot, psychologically, and would you expect that of any other job?”
Jennifer Hartsig, also a CPS educator, emphasized that the strike is about more than increased pay. Resources, better staffing and more systemic changes such as public housing reform are also a part of the platform for this strike.
“In the last couple of contracts there were so many promises made that were rescinded. We’re just tired of having that happen,” Hartsig said. “We’re looking to have a fair, ethical contract for everyone involved: parents, teachers, children.”
As the strike continues through today and negotiations continue, Hartsig is prepared to handle pushback head on.
“We’ll continue to explain it’s for the children and what they need,” she said.
Day Two and into the Weekend: Negotiations Continue
CPS and city officials continued negotiating on Friday and through the weekend. Meanwhile CTU members continued at their picket lines on Friday and rallied with healthcare workers on Saturday. Though CTU negotiators say progress was made, both sides did not come to an agreement that would end the strike.
Janice Jackson, the CEO of CPS, explained the current offer to parents in a letter on Sunday, according to CBS.
“Under our current offer, an average teacher will see their salary rise to nearly $100,000,” Jackson wrote. “Critical support staff such as clerks, nurses, and teacher assistants will receive raises exceeding 20 percent over five years, and many will see their paychecks rise 7 to 14 percent immediately.”
Jackson also addressed concerns regarding class size and staffing.
“Our class size offer would allocate over $10 million to support additional staffing for the relatively small number of overcrowded classrooms in the district, and our staffing proposal would go above and beyond the public commitment Mayor Lightfoot and I made over the summer to hire hundreds of additional social workers, nurses and special education case managers. Through both of these proposals, we have worked to create solutions that will promote equity and ensure resources are directed to the schools that need them most.”
Among negotiation accomplishments, CTU representatives said in a press conference on Sunday night that, among other things, CPS has agreed to require that school counselors are assigned counseling work. Previously, school counselors reported being pulled into other administrative duties such as testing. Students experiencing homelessness will also be connected with a person dedicated to helping them “transition and be successful.”
However, negotiations were held up yet again on issues regarding class size and support staffing. Mayor Lori Lightfood and Jackson said CTU moved slowly during negotiations and counterproposals on these issues. The union said delays were due to a lack of enforcement mechanisms in the contract that would ensure the promises are kept.
Header Image by Marissa Nelson