CHICAGO — Thursday was the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, and thousands of teachers marched through the Loop after a rally outside of Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
About 25,000 Chicago Public School teachers hit the picket line at 6:30 a.m. after rejecting the district's contract proposal Wednesday evening. This is the first time CPS teachers have gone on strike since 2012. Chicago is the nation's third largest school district.
Classes will be canceled Friday as the CTU continues their strike, CPS said in a tweet.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey joined teachers picketing outside Helen Peirce International Studies school, where he said every kindergarten class has at least 30 students. He said there's "pent-up frustration" among union members about conditions in the schools, and the union wants some of those longstanding issues addressed in their next contract.
Chicago teachers are asking for more pay, smaller class sizes and more staffing. Another sticking point of the teachers union is affordable housing. The CTU wants access to low income housing for new teachers and its estimated 16,450 homeless students.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was disappointed by the union's decision to strike.
"We are offering a historic package on the core issues — salary, staffing and class size," she said.
Lightfoot voiced frustration about what she sees as the union's lack of urgency to make a deal. "So, what we need is for the union to come back to the table to bargain in good faith, spend the time actually getting a deal done, face to face with us, and not off to the side in a caucus," she said. "If there is a seriousness of purpose and a willingness on the other side we could get a deal done today."
Sharkey spoke briefly after early talks wrapped up and said it's "highly unlikely" a deal on all outstanding issues would be struck Thursday. Sharkey said the district did provide some written language on class sizes that the union was still reviewing.
"We don't just want a fast deal," Sharkey said before leading teachers on a march through the city's downtown streets. "We are going to hold fast to a just deal."
Bargainers are expected to return Friday.
Classes and activities were preemptively canceled ahead of the anticipated strike to give families more time to figure out their childcare options. Over 300,000 students are affected by the strike.
While some school buildings were open during normal hours, classes were canceled as well as after school activities. Some parents are hoping the strike doesn’t last long.
“For me it didn’t go as bad I was able to get off time to pick her up by 2:45. I hope they work something out soon because I can’t do it every day,” Richard White, a parent, said.
“We need the teachers back in the class and the kids and the teachers need to get what they deserve,” Sepideh Noekhah, a parent, said.
At Bronzeville Classical Elementary, students spent some time jumping rope, playing basketball and other games.
“We got to play for most of the time, Arion Sharheh, a third grader, said. “We played on the computers for like 30 minutes and then had lunch.”
Striking union teachers will be joined at the picket line by SEIU members. That union represents 7,000 support staffers, such as bus aides and security guards, who are also negotiating a new contract.
During the 2012 strike, the district kept some schools open for half days during a seven-day walkout. This time, all CPS school buildings will be open during the normal school day. Students who need a safe place to go are encouraged to attend their regular school, but will be welcomed at any CPS school that is age appropriate. More on CPS's contingency plan can be found here.
In a press conference Thursday evening, CTU officials said it's "too early to say" when the strike will end.
"It's too early to say, we're willing to bargain hard tomorrow. If it goes into the weekend we will stay at the bargaining table," CTU Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson said. "We're going to do what it takes to get what we need before we go back... so it's too early to say about Monday."
Parents are encouraged to register their child online for the duration of the potential strike. While not mandatory, it helps ensure the district has enough staff and meals to serve each child. All CPS schools will serve breakfast and lunch to students.
The CTA is offering free rides for students until school reopens.