From missed meetings to children home alone, Chicago families feel the strain of ongoing Acero charter strike

It took Alma Adan several weeks to schedule a meeting with school counselors to go over her kindergarten son’s special education needs. But the day of the planned meeting came and went Thursday, and Adan had yet to connect with the counselors at the Acero charter school that her son and two daughters attend.

That’s because the teachers there have been on strike since Tuesday. 

“I’m kind of frustrated today,” said Adan, a stay-at-home mother who lives in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood on the city’s West Side, and whose children attend Acero’s Roberto Clemente School nearby.

Acero is Chicago’s second-largest charter network, and about 500 of its union members are on strike across 15 schools. They are demanding smaller class sizes, more pay for teachers and paraprofessionals, and a “sanctuary school” policy that would protect undocumented students from possible immigration enforcement.

The strike, which continued Friday, has displaced more than 7,000 children whose parents were advised to keep their children home or find child care. Working parents have had to scramble for coverage or leave their children home alone. Parents who don’t work, meanwhile, or who have flexible jobs, have had to contend with bored and confused children.

Around 95 percent of the network’s students are Latino, and almost half are English language learners. Many are low-income.

For Adan, the strike has been a major inconvenience, to be sure. Still, she said she supports the teachers and wants to see their picket-line demands be met.

“We used to have a technology teacher,” Adan said Thursday, speaking to Chalkbeat in the afternoon, after she walked the picket line with her children. “There have been so many changes, like budget cuts, that affected our school. I support the teachers because they are also fighting for our students.”

She’s hardly the only one caught between the desire for changes at Acero schools and the hope that the strike will end sooner rather than later.

Maria Mauricio, a parent with first- and third-graders at Acero’s Veterans Memorial School Campus in Archer Heights, said the strike has been very stressful.

“I hear from a lot of my friends that a lot of people are not sleeping,” she said. “We are anxiously waiting for the calls to say class is back in session.”

As of Thursday evening, teacher representatives who are in the process of bargaining with Acero leaders said the two sides made progress on sanctuary schools, but had made little movement on class size or pay.

With so many kids out of class, public and community organizations such as the Chicago Park District and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago have stepped in to help the families with free childcare. Still few availed themselves of these offers. The Rauner Family YMCA in Little Village served two students on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Lakeview location served eight. Four students came to the park district’s centers on Wednesday and seven came on Thursday. Meanwhile, Acero schools kept their doors open, and non-union staff was supervising group activities; between 75 and 100 students showed up.

Mauricio did not take her children to any of the backup childcare locations because she didn’t entirely feel comfortable leaving her children there. Instead she stayed at home with her kids and took them to the picket line Thursday to show support for the striking teachers.

For some families with working parents, the decision to close schools has meant children are alone at home. Most of the schools in the Acero network are K-8, with an exception of one K-12 school and two high schools.

Brian Kharot’s sister goes to one of the high schools, Acero’s Major Hector P. Garcia M.D. High School. Less than a mile from where teachers were walking the picket line Tuesday at Garcia, Kharot was working his shift at a Dunkin’ Donuts. The night before Kharot, a Little Village resident, had been speaking with his mom and sister around the kitchen table about the teacher’s planned walkout.

“My mom was upset,” Kharot said, “because my sister had to stay home from school by herself because my mom works during the day.”