CHICAGO – Chicago teachers uncomfortable with a tentative contract offer decided Sunday to remain on strike, insisting they need more time before deciding whether to end an acrimonious standoff with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that will keep 350,000 students out of class for at least two more days.
Emanuel fired back Sunday night by instructing city attorneys to seek a court order forcing Chicago Teachers Union members back into the classroom. “This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children,” he said in a statement.
Presented with a choice on whether to ask members to vote on a contract that union President Karen Lewis had at one point called “a fight for the very soul of public education,” the union’s House of Delegates told their leaders they needed more time to talk to the rank and file.
Teachers had only a few hours to review a summary of a proposed settlement worked out over the weekend with officials from the nation’s third-largest school district. That wasn’t enough time, they said, to digest a complicated contract that addresses two issues central to the debate over the future of public education across the United States: teacher evaluations and job security.
“We felt more comfortable being able to take back what’s on the table and let our constituents look at it and digest it,” said Dean Refakes, a physical education teacher at Gompers Elementary School. “We can have a much better decision come Tuesday.”
That timeline, however, means the soonest classes could resume would be Wednesday. That frustrated both Emanuel and some parents.
“I think a week is a long time to be wasting time. Another week would be murder. I don’t think it’s right,” said Beatriz Fierro, the mother of a fifth-grader. “They should be back in school. I don’t think teachers should be on strike that long.”
Other parents continued to stand with the union. As teachers walked picket lines in the past week and rallied Saturday in a park near downtown, they were joined by parents who have had to scramble to find baby-sitters or a supervised place for children to pass the time.
“As much as we want our kids back in school, teachers need to make sure they have dotted all their I’s and crossed their T’s,” said Becky Malone, mother of a second-grader and fourth-grader. “What’s the point of going on strike if you don’t get everything you need out of it?”
School board President David Vitale said 147 schools staffed with non-union workers and central office employees would be open today for students who are dependent on school-provided meals.
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