West Side teachers, activists react to CPS strike continuing

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Austin science teacher Asif Wilson’s classroom sink is a Gatorade bottle and a mop bucket – a reminder, he says, of the lack of resources at May Elementary and too many other CPS schools.

It’s one of the reasons why he and thousands of other teachers remain away from school Sept. 17, a day after many had expected the Chicago Teachers Union to end the week-old strike.

Picketing continues today outside hundreds of schools. Delegates will reconvene Tuesday, extending the strike for at least another 48 hours, though Mayor Rahm Emanuel instructed city and CPS attorneys to go to court today to force teachers back to work. The earliest many say students could return to school is Wednesday, if then.

“On the one hand, kids are not in school, but I think it was important for everyone to understand and comprehend the union language,” Wilson said, referring to the House of Delegates decision to have all 26,000-some union members be able to see the proposed contract before agreeing to return to school.

He said the primary reason he’s on strike is his students, not his salary.

“The media has made it a fight between children and consumers,” Wilson said. “They don’t necessarily understand the other factors that go in to it, like lack of resources and equity among schools.”

An increase of funding to charter schools may leave the rest of CPS schools like May, in need of more resources, in the dust, said Wilson, who teaches seventh and eighth graders at the West Side school.

Elce Redmond, an organizer for the South Austin Coalition, said CPS officials and the mayor are more concerned with creating more privatized schools than extending benefits for teachers and students.

“I don’t think CPS or the mayor cares about students at all,” Redmond said.

The mayor indicates the opposite in a statement issued after the delegates voted Sunday to extend the strike.

“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union,” Emanuel said.  “This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children.”

Some teachers are striking for the extension of “wrap-around services,” including nurses and social workers, said Georgia Anne Moore, a third grade teacher at Sumner Mathematics and Science Academy in North Lawndale. She said a nurse and speech pathologist visit Sumner just once a week, though her students need their services more often than that.

“You can only be sick when the nurse is in,” Moore said, who’s written on her blog the reasons why she’s not teaching right now.

Moore said she fears many may view the strike as being teacher-focused. But she said all issues relate back to children, such as a demand for more nurses and counselors.

Redmond said the South Austin Coalition has worked with community schools to provide supplies and educational seminars for students. He said schools in Austin and communities need wrap-around services because so many students live in poverty and are dealing with challenges at home, like abuse.

The Chicago Board of Education has agreed in the pending contract proposal to provide more funding for wrap-around services if new revenue becomes available – something that worries some teachers given CPS’ financial woes.

Some of the proposed provisions were shared in a CTU press release.

The mayor plans to ask a local court today for a temporary restraining order, which if granted could force teachers back to work. The mayor called the strike illegal in a statement because teachers are striking over non-strikeable issues and by being away from the classroom, they are “endangering the health and safety of our children.”

But teachers insist they have the right to strike over the issues they’re raised.

“We’re not striking over anything illegal,” Moore said. “We’re not striking over class-size and air-conditioning, even though those are issues.”

Catherine Jones, PTA president at Douglass High School in Austin, said she does not trust Emanuel and thinks he and CPS are concerned with their own agenda for schools.

“I am so glad that (CTU) stood up to this man,” Jones said.

That’s not how the four aldermen who represent Austin feel.

Last week, before teachers walked off the job, the four joined many other aldermen in sending a letter to CTU President Karen Lewis, urging her to keep teachers working with their students during contract negotiations.

Thirty-one other aldermen signed the letter, along with Ald. Michael Chandler (24th), Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th).

In the letter, aldermen said they were concerned college-bound students would miss application deadlines and other children would miss opportunities to participate in school sports.

“Though we fully support your collective bargaining rights, we urge you not to put our children at such a tremendous disadvantage,” they wrote to Lewis.


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