As charter strike enters second day, Chicago agencies offer care for students out of school

Negotiations between the Acero charter school network and its 500 teachers stalled Tuesday night, prompting union officials to announce that the nation’s first-ever charter strike will extend a second day.

Meanwhile, public and community organizations such as the Chicago Park District and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago stepped in to help the families of some 7,000 students whose schools will be closed.

Acero management did not offer a comment on Tuesday.

The 500-member union representing teachers said that Acero management and teachers remained “far apart” on class size, compensation for paraprofessionals, and sanctuary school language in the contract.  

In Spanish and English, Acero officials offered its families guidance through robo-calls and messages on Acero schools’ websites and answering machines. The Rauner YMCA in Little Village and Lake View YMCA opened from 7 a.m. to offer daycamps to students ages 6 to 12. 

Only five children showed up to the Lake View location on the strike’s first day, but Aileen Tormon, the YMCA’s director of communications, said the organization expected that number to increase if the strike wasn’t resolved.

“We anticipate a larger number of children coming to the Y for programming tomorrow,” she said on Tuesday.

At the Chicago Park District, eight parks have been staffed to accommodate up to 540 students, a spokeswoman said. Families were encouraged to register online for child care offered from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at McKinley, Dvorak, Piotrowski, Riis, Warren, Independence, Gage and Humboldt parks.       

For some in the majority-Latino communities served by the Acero network, the walkout reminded them of the ongoing concerns about equity and resource distribution in their neighborhoods.

Maria Mauricio, a parent with first- and third-graders at Acero’s Veterans Memorial School Campus, said she has chosen the network for her children because she believed that the school with a Level 1-plus rating, the district’s highest, would offer a better education than her neighborhood elementary schools in West Lawn.

But when she volunteered at the school, she saw firsthand the large class sizes and overworked staff.

“I have so much respect for the teachers. I don’t know how they can handle so many students,” said Mauricio, who joined teachers on the picket line on Tuesday. “It concerns me because I wonder how much attention they are giving my child.”

Around 95 percent of the network’s students are Latino, and almost half are English language learners. Acero serves a heavily low-income population as well — around 93 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a proxy for poverty.