Playdates and pickets: how Chicago families spent Day One of the teachers strike

Joining teachers picketing in front of schools during the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike Thursday, a number of students and parents picked up signs or brought their own and joined the marches.

With classes canceled, parents weighed their options carefully. Some sent students to the still-open schools, where the district pledged that administrators and central office employees would be on hand to give their charges a safe place to spend the day. Park districts, YMCAs, and libraries also welcomed students, while the CTA offered them free morning rides.

Some older students, like North Side freshmen Ginger and Ella, attended the afternoon rally downtown, marching alongside educators and support staff with SEIU Local 27. Band students from Kelly High School marched too, blasting tunes like “The Hey Song” to help keep spirits high.

“I’m here to support my teachers, because they’re fighting for class sizes and nurses and counselors, and I think that’s important,” said Ginger, who attends North Side College Prep.

Ella, a freshman at Lane Tech, said her class has discussed concerns with teachers regarding how the strike would impact their testing dates and education overall.

Both girls also recalled marching as second-graders in the 2012 strike, which, as Ginger recalled, “lasted a long time.”

Still, many parents opted to keep their children home or arranged other care, with the hopes that the strike would be short, and their normal routines could resume soon.

“Everything is kind of last minute,” said Jamiece Jamison, who was caring for her 6-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew while their mother was at work Thursday. “We’re just going to try to take it day by day.” For Jamison, that meant trips to East Garfield Park’s Breakthrough FamilyPlex — where Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave a press conference Thursday morning — and to the library.

District parent John Hieronymus understands all too well what his daughters’ teachers are going through, as he recently joined the University of Chicago Medical Center strike as a registered nurse. His daughters stayed home with their mother Thursday, but started the day picketing with their teachers at Bret Harte Elementary in Hyde Park.

Harte Elementary’s student body is 86% black, and 76% of its students come from low-income households.

“Every day I go pick up my kids, you see teachers trying to take care of kids who have injuries, and the school has a nurse in once a week,” Hieronymus said. “They call you at work if something is wrong, and they ask if you want to come in to check on [our children], but unless it’s a real emergency, that’s really rough.”

Hieronymus said the Hyde Park community has banded together during the walkout.

“It sucks, but it’s short term, and then we hope we’ll all come out ahead in the end,” he said. “We’ve been really inspired by teachers around the country who have gone on strike, because we know that as people who work for a living, we’re all helping each other out, and that means we all do better.”

Kevin Robinson took two of his four children to join the picket line at Holden Elementary in Bridgeport. His children are staying at home for the duration of the strike, doing reading, writing and art to keep themselves occupied.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do if this drags on, but I think it’s going to,” Robinson said. “I think Lightfoot needs to get it together. I think she’s using [former mayor] Rahm Emanuel’s plan from 2012, which is to make it hurt and figure the parents are going to turn on the teachers, but I think the parents are just supporting the teachers more and more.”

On the North Side, Michele McAtee, mother to Peirce Elementary fifth-grader Maddie, also had criticism for Lightfoot. She said she voted for the mayor in the spring municipal election, but her support has started to waver during the negotiations. “Like the union has said, she needs to put her promises in writing,” McAtee said. “She’s a corporate lawyer. She knows how to do that.”

Parents at Boone Elementary in the Rogers Park neighborhood leapt into action Wednesday night, when news of the strike broke as they were hosting a Friends of Boone meeting. Cassandra Kaczocha, a parent of two Boone students in the seventh and third grades, said she and other parents who work from home offered to arrange play dates with any students in need of a place to go, while others near the school opened their homes up for bathroom pit stops as needed. On Thursday, two classmates joined her children for a play date.

“People have been able to put things in place for Thursday and Friday,” Kaczocha said. “But it sounds like if the strikes starts to bleed into next week, that’s when a lot of families are going to be struggling to find something to do.”