Teachers in Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, continue their citywide strike that has canceled classes indefinitely for more than a quarter of a million students.
The strike comes after months of negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools on pay and benefits, class size and teacher preparation time. Throughout the last few months, the groups have failed to resolve their disputes, prompting union members and their allies to take direct action.
On the evening of Oct. 16, the group confirmed that its 25,000 members would not return to their classrooms the following day. Instead, they would participate in a citywide walkout, canceling classes for approximately 300,000 teachers, students and staff. Despite canceled classes, children can still receive three meals a day from their school. Children who are unable to stay at home all day are able to remain in the schools under the supervision of nonunion members, like principals.
The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago city officials negotiated contracts through the weekend. While they reached agreements on certain aspects of the dispute, including school counselors and student homelessness, they have yet to reach agreement on major issues including classroom sizes and teacher pay.
Chicago Public Schools has long struggled with entrenched financial problems and a general lack of resources. The school district serves a high percentage of students from low-income communities and struggles to maintain graduation rates. Chicago Public Schools are also highly segregated, have fewer teachers with advanced degrees and have generally larger class sizes.
The union used the strike as an opportunity to draw widespread attention to these issues and others faced by students in the district. The union has also voiced the need for mental health resources for students in the district who live amid daily violence. They also emphasized the necessity of housing resources for students in a city where home prices have skyrocketed and many have been forced to relocate.
The strike is Chicago’s first major walkout by teachers since 2012. In September of that year, approximately 26,000 joined picketing efforts to resolve contract disputes with school district officials. The strike was also partially a response to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s closure of dozens of schools in predominantly black and Hispanic communities and his failure to address crucial issues within the district.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of strength among teachers’ unions. Throughout the last decade, educators nationwide have increasingly used strikes and walkouts to bring their voices to the forefront of dialogue around education and to connect with their own communities.
Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the strike aims to bring attention to the need for systemic change within the school district.
“We mean business,” she said. “It cannot be about politics and personalities. It’s got to be about shifting and transforming the infrastructure of inequity.”
The strike was initially expected to last through Oct. 18. As it stands, the strike will likely last through the week.