Optimism over ending Chicago teachers strike, but no classes Friday
On a scale of 1-10, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said "I'm a 9" on a deal being reached today. But she said classes would not resume Friday because the union's House of Delegates would need time to approve ending the strike.
"We're hoping we can tighten up some of the things we talked about yesterday. . .and get this thing done," Lewis told reporters.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief education officer with Chicago Public Schools, was equally confident of a deal today, echoing optimism voiced by board president David Vitale when talks broke up just before midnight Wednesday.
About 4 p.m., Rev. Jesse Jackson said the atmosphere at negotiation headquarters was different Thursday.
"There's a sense of urgency today," Jackson said.
A meeting of the House of Delegates has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, where the more than 700 delegates can vote to end the strike, pending approval of the contract by the union’s full membership.
If the delegates vote to end the strike, student and teachers will likely return to class Monday. But it may still take a week or more before the union’s 26,000 members officially vote to ratify the new teachers contract.
The CTU is also planning what it calls a “Wisconsin-style” labor rally at noon Saturday in Union Park.
Teachers at the picket line at Walt Disney Magnet School said they liked what they've heard so far from the contract talks.
"We're most optimistic that the union leadership will make sure our demands are met," said Michelle Gunderson, a fourth-grade teacher at Nettlehorst Elementary in Lakeview. "We can't just do this again. This has to be the finish line."
The picket line looked more like a family reunion than a strike.
Gallons of coffee and piles of snacks like popcorn and energy bars lay on a table while a cooler of ice-cold water bottles stood nearby. Children ran around the sidewalk laughing, and teachers and their family members hugged and chanted. A group sang 'Happy birthday' to a young child in both English and Spanish.
Fran Feeley, 44, a librarian at Inter-American Magnet School, said he had "mixed-feelings" about the news. While Feeley doesn't want the strike to carry on, he said certain issues need to be addressed.
"I don't accept the idea that charter schools and vouchers and testing kids eight weeks a year is going to solve the problems facing the public schools," he said.
At the picket line outside CPS headquarters in the Loop, teachers said they hoped their actions will be a good lesson not just for their students, but for other unions across the country.
“Other schools and strikers around the country can realize we should no longer be bullied,” said Donielle Lawson, known as “the jail teacher” because she teaches special education at York Alternative High School located at Cook County Jail.
Lawson said she sent a text message to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis late Wednesday night after hearing that the two sides had made progress and students could be back into the classroom soon.
"Get to bed," Lawson said she texted Lewis around 12:15 a.m.