Live updates from Day 6 of the Chicago teachers: Civil disobedience training and that weary feeling

It’s the sixth day of no classes for 300,000 Chicago students, and that weary feeling has set in — for families scrambling to find care for their children, for teachers returning to picket lines in the early morning hours, and for negotiators at the bargaining table.

The union planned a day of picket lines in the morning hours and civil disobedience training in the afternoon at its headquarters, signaling that more dramatic actions could be on the way if resolution isn’t reached. On Wednesday, the union characterized negotiations as productive — but not on the issues it considers most important.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, on the other hand, planned to tour a South Side family health center, a day after announcing more city funds for mental health and homeless services.

We’ll be keeping up with the day’s events here with our live updates. Follow Yana Kunichoff (@yanazure), Cassie Walker Burke (@cassiechicago), Kalyn Belsha (@kalynbelsha), and Ariel Cheung (@arielfab).

Have photos, tips, suggestions, or want to weigh in on the strike? If you’re a parent, teacher or student, tell us how you are holding up. Write us at

8:30 p.m. Progress reported

For the first time during these negotiations, the union and the district hold back-to-back press updates on the day’s bargaining. Each side reports progress, but gives few specifics. Jennifer Johnson, the chief of staff for the union, who frequently gives updates, said teachers hope to be back at school on Monday.

“That is absolutely our hope,” Johnson said. “The details are moving, there’s been a good back and forth today,” 

The city’s negotiators also were upbeat. “We are encouraged about  the productivity from today, having some really strong discussions about proposals already on the table,” said Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade. “The tone is respectful… There is definitely more progress at the table.” 

4:25 p.m. It’s official

It’s official: Chicago Public Schools says school will be canceled for a seventh day, tying the 2019 strike length with the seven-day walkout in 2012. The fact that it’s not a Chicago record offers little solace to parents: Teachers walked out six months into Mayor Harold Washington’s term, in 1987, for 19 work days.

1 p.m. A special education focus

Special education teachers outlined their needs at a Chicago Teachers Union press conference, Oct. 24, 2019.

The Chicago Teachers Union brought a crowd of special education teachers to its afternoon press conference. The union is asking for a case manager in every school, a demand it says the district has rejected, and a smaller caseload for special education teachers. 

Samantha Heatley, a full-time case manager at Farragut High School, said she is in charge of managing the services of 170 students. Jennifer Senyard, who teaches on the South Side of Chicago, said she has seen students with special needs have class in converted bathrooms and school closets. (We published a First Person piece from the mother of one of them earlier this week.)

Whether the city could fill new special education positions, even if it agreed to fund them, is a question. The school district, like many others, has a hard time hiring enough teachers with special education training. The union says it will help build a pipeline, but the job has to be one that people actually want to do — and having too many students is a key part of that, said union Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson.

The state is overseeing special education in Chicago after concluding that the district systemically delayed or denied services, and a recent update found that the city still has a long way to go to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

12:15 p.m. Meet the parents

Where are all of Chicago’s kids during the strike? Chicago Public Schools has reported fluctuating numbers of children reporting to minimally staffed schools each day — between 6,000 and 7,000 daily, about 2% to 3% of the student population.

Many families are taking a more ad-hoc route. Cassie spoke to Chanel Pryor outside the health clinic where Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared today. Pryor was taking her son, who’s 6 and in first grade, along with her to a doctor’s appointment. Pryor usually works downtown, so she’s been leaving him in the care of his older brother.

“I feel like he should be at school. I’m trying to what I can. Today, I’m taking him to my doctor’s appointment just to get him out of the house,” she said.  

She’s sympathetic with teachers — “a lot of the things they are asking for we had when I was growing up” — but she’s bothered by the timing. “If teachers felt so strongly,” she asked, “shouldn’t all this been done over the summer and not in the middle of school?” (The teachers union has said it was ready to negotiate sooner, but Lightfoot, who took office in May, was not.)

12 p.m. Students feel the toll

High school students have missed out on a college fair and state championship games while their teachers are on strike. And Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed frustration today that the strike is disrupting critical milestones for students preparing for college.

“We’ve had to cancel the SAT,” she said. “And right now would be the time when CPS would be making sure our young people have their applications ready for the federal financial aid deadline for Nov. 1.”

Completing the FAFSA, the federal financial aid application, is now required under Illinois state law; before the law passed, Chicago Public Schools had one of the highest participation rates in the state with nearly three-quarters of seniors filing the paperwork.

The SAT college admissions exam was originally scheduled for the week the strike started and has now been rescheduled for Oct. 30. It’s administered for free during the school day in Chicago to increase access for students who might not be able to pay to take it on the weekend. But that approach makes it vulnerable to changes in schools’ operations.

11:45 a.m. “Five years. Five years.”

Looks like Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn’t going to budge on the length of the contract she offers to the Chicago Teachers Union. The union wants a three-year contract; she’s said the city wants the new contract to be in effect for five years.

Asked whether there had been any movement toward a compromise on Thursday morning, Lightfoot was emphatic. “That’s not going to be possible,” she said. “Five years. Five years.”

11:42 a.m. Strike breakfast

11:30 a.m. SEIU Local 73 begs for bargaining

SEIU Local 73’s 7,500 members have been on strike from their jobs in Chicago schools since Thursday, when teachers also walked out. Speaking on WBEZ Thursday morning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city had put together a “fulsome” offer that includes an immediate 9% wage hike for the district’s lowest-paid workers.

But she said the union was sitting on the deal until the Chicago Teachers Union has one of its own. “They value their political relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union more than getting a deal done,” Lightfoot said.

Larry Alcoff, the union’s lead negotiator, said at about the same time that the school district had not in fact been negotiating with the union, which represents support staff and has been working under an expired contract for 15 months. He said there had only been two bargaining sessions with the city since the strike began: one that lasted for an hour and a second that lasted just 12 minutes.

City officials said they could not offer more, he said.

“This is not a publicity stunt,” Alcoff said. “It’s a sincere request that school district negotiators work with us.” 

City officials, however, said it was union that walked out of the second talks.

According to SEIU, there are three big sticking points: pay for special education classroom assistants, rules governing when aides can be used as substitute teachers, and paid vacation days for support workers.

10:30 a.m. A fund for striking teachers as lost wages mount

Teachers aren’t paid for the time they’re on strike, so Chicago’s teachers are already looking at a week of lost wages, with no end in sight. The Chicago Teachers Union has no strike fund, according to the Sun-Times, which took an important look at the financial toll the strike is having on union members.

But now the American Federation of Teachers has launched a “strike solidarity fund” to support local educators. “Help us show our union family we have their backs,” the fund page says. “Donate today.”

According to an AFT spokesperson, the national union set up the fund so the local union could focus on negotiations — and get the maximum donation without having a portion go to credit card transaction fees.

One major financial deadline looms: If the strike is not resolved by the end of the month — Oct. 31 is a week from today — the city could stop contributing to teachers’ health insurance plans. That move would leave teachers with hefty COBRA payments if they want to avoid interruptions in their coverage.

10:26 a.m. Weekend planning

The teachers union has just offered a pretty clear sign about what it expects to happen at the bargaining table today and on Friday. On Twitter, the union announced another citywide rally — for Saturday.

10 a.m. Lightfoot’s view

At the same time that school district officials were updating reporters at Malcolm X College, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was sounding a similar note on the South Side. She also said that the city was waiting for a response from the teachers union on its class size and support staffing proposals, and said bargaining had not stalled but was not “making the levels of progress we need to” to reach a deal.

Will she be at the negotiating table today? “When I can add value, I will,” Lightfoot said.

9:50 a.m. “We can get a deal done” but …

Chicago Public Schools officials offered a firm message to the public Thursday morning — but not renewed hope that the strike would be resolved soon.

“We can get a deal done,” LaTanya McDade, the district’s chief academic officer, told reporters. “It’s a matter of both sides giving and being reasonable about not just what proposals are being put forward but being financially responsible about what we agree to, and then also ensuring we’re doing everything we can to get our students back in the classroom.”

She said the district was waiting for counterproposals from the teachers union on multiple issues, especially class size. “Class size is a holdup,” she said.

Remember, the union wants class size limits written into the contract, as well as penalties if they are exceeded.

9:35 a.m. An unusual morning update

We just got word that Chicago Public Schools will be giving a public update on negotiations — in 15 minutes. Our reporter is rushing over for the briefing at Malcolm X College, where negotiators have been at work since last week.

It’s an unusual time for an update — the city and union have been briefing the press more frequently later in the day. And Mayor Lori Lightfoot is making her own appearance at a different event many miles away. More soon.

8 a.m. Seeing red

The Chicago Teachers Union asked its supporters across the country to demonstrate their solidarity by post pictures of themselves wearing red today. Those photos are starting to flood social media this morning, using the hashtag #PutitinWriting. We’ve spotted what looks like the entire teaching staff of a school in Summit, Illinois …

the New York State 2017 Teacher of the Year …

and a Philadelphia teacher who says her union there has pushed for similar changes.

6:30 a.m. Back to school

Teachers wake up to this tweet of support from presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, who visited union hall a few weeks ago. They return to school picket lines after a day of rallying downtown.

What happened Wednesday

You can catch up on everything that happened on the strike’s fifth day in our live tracker. But here are some highlights:

  • More tentative small agreements, some momentum, but still no resolution on the five core issues: That’s how union leaders described the state of bargaining Wednesday night. Here’s our recap from end-of-day briefings.
  • Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed frustration with the size of the union’s bargaining team, which she said was unwieldy. She also gave a budget address that was light on education news but did reveal that the city is allocating more money to mental health and homeless services. More on that news in our live tracker.
  • Ariel took a bus ride with some of the school system’s lowest-paid workers and wrote an eye-opening story.
  • And our team took a closer look at the five issues at the core of the dispute and where negotiations stand over them.