Live updates from Day 7 of the Chicago teachers strike: No deal but a get-down-to-business tone for weekend talks

Chicago teachers have been back on the picket line for the seventh straight day — but with renewed hope that they and their students could be headed back to class soon.

The current strike now matches the Chicago Teachers Union’s 2012 strike in the number of school days lost.

The union is still planning a massive rally for Saturday morning, and some teachers got civil disobedience training on Thursday, so things could still change.

As we have since the strike began, we’ll be offering updates throughout the day today here. As we prepare for an eventual deal, we want to know: What will you want to know about the teachers contract agreement?

8:30 pm. Hopes turn to the weekend for progress

Down to the most challenging and important issues to the Chicago Teachers Union, negotiators from both sides Friday somberly offered bargaining updates that didn’t note major progress. One thing was noticeably absent: the antagonistic rhetoric that characterized previous statements.

It’s not certain whether schools will reopen on Monday. 

While neither the union nor school district negotiators named specifics, the biggest sticking points so far have been class size and staffing. The union is also still hoping to win additional prep time, a demand the district has rejected. 

At back-to-back press conferences on Friday night, negotiators spoke with cautious optimism, but acknowledged they have a long way to go. Their tone was more subdued than it had been on Thursday.

The school district said Friday’s talks were stop-and-go as they struggled over the biggest issues. “We are really focused on how do we get to a place where there is some compromise on those big issues,” Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said.

Likewise, union President Jesse Sharkey said, “when you start getting to the stuff that matters the most but is the hardest, bargaining at that point can be an exercise in how to manage your emotions, stay cool and work hard.” 

It is possible to close the gap on remaining issues in Saturday’s all-day bargaining session, McDade told reporters outside of Malcolm X College. “We are working through those issues with the hopes of getting our students in the classroom as soon as possible.” 

The union and City Hall negotiators both said a federal mediator overseeing negotiations for months has been playing a role, but declined to provide details. 

In a Friday night town hall call-in with members, Sharkey said prep time is likely to be a serious sticking point to making a deal. The union wants an extra 30 minutes of morning prep time for elementary teachers, which it lost when Chicago lengthened its school day in 2016. 

“It’s a tough issue,” Sharkey told members. “It’s a reasonable demand and we are very serious about it.” 

He also reportedly said that a demand to bank sick days is still unresolved.

6:30 p.m. Is teacher morale up or down?

Walking out on a job — and your students — is not easy. Sustaining energy during a strike is hard. How are Chicago teachers feeling?

We talked to many this week, who said the possibility of winning more resources for their classrooms and more manageable working conditions is buoying their spirits. And they’re relying on one another.

They also think about what they need:

Social worker Alyssa Rodriguez said she was spurred to strike because her caseload, split between two schools, at times felt impossible. “Listen, I am good, but I am not God,” she joked. “Plan your crisis accordingly, because I am only in the building on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

6 p.m. Legislators grill Chicago over special ed

Among the union’s top demands has been better staffing for special education. Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to provide a special education case worker for every school with a concentration of students with disabilities — by 2024. But student needs now are going unmet.

Just how are district efforts to improve going?

Well, in a five-hour hearing Friday, a state legislative committee looked into it. They heard from parents like Christine Palmieri, who said that even after she spent years advocating for her autistic son, the district still denies him the support he needs.

“It has caused significant, long-term regression,” she said.

“Why is it OK for CPS not to follow the law, and why do I feel like I have to be apologetic for my demands that my son deserves better?” she said. “I am exhausted.”

3:30 p.m. Rally disrupts Friday rush hour

A Chicago Teachers Union rally shut down the northbound lanes of Michigan Avenue on the seventh day of the union’s strike. (Cassie Walker Burke/Chalkbeat)

Negotiations might be moving in the right direction, but protest action is only growing more aggressive this afternoon as Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters rally downtown at the start of rush hour.

Helen Chang, a special education teacher at Pulaski International School, said she was tired at the end of the strike’s second week but kept thinking about the students with disabilities at her school. “We are missing teachers and kids are not getting their minutes,” she said, referring to the amount of time students are legally required to spend receiving special services. “An IEP is supposed to be based on what kids need, but it’s currently based on what we can provide.”

Teachers said they had planned to shut down Lake Shore Drive and had formed a front line of those who were willing to get arrested but encountered a line of police holding zip ties. You can see a testy exchange, and a dire warning from the police, in the video below.

1:45 p.m. The case of student athletes

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Illinois High School Athletic Association will waive a minimum-game rule for Chicago high school football teams affected by the strike, reopening the door for teams to potentially enter state championships if schools re-open by Wednesday.

Disqualified from meets and tournaments due to rules that bar students from sports activities when schools are striking, the athletes have become visible symbols of the collateral damage of the walkouts. Parents representing a cross country team at Jones College Prep attended a hearing in court on Friday in hopes of last-minute intervention before a tournament Saturday. Meanwhile, several athletes take their concerns to City Hall in hopes of sharing them the mayor. She departs City Hall before the students arrive.

1:42 p.m. Tagging the movement

Now there’s graffiti with the slogan #PutItInWriting, which has become a union refrain. It refers to a demand that the mayor commit to specific numbers of support staff in the contract, an issue we explain more thoroughly here. 

10:15 a.m. Where negotiations stand

After no update since Oct. 18, a website with the city’s latest proposals to the union got an update late Thursday. We put together what we saw there and what we’ve heard from union bargaining team members and see that there’s still some distance on three core issues:

  • The city’s current proposal on staffing offers a full-time nurse and social worker for every school (over five years), increased staffing for bilingual and special education students, and additional staff member that would go to high-need schools, who could choose from a librarian, restorative justice coordinator or other position. The union is still asking for an enforcement mechanism to make sure that, if staff targets aren’t met, members could file a grievance.
  • On class size, the district’s current offer gives more resources to address class size through a committee and the hiring of additional teaching assistants. The union wants more funding to go towards staffing that would address class size.
  • On prep time, the union is still asking for an additional 30 minutes of morning prep time for elementary teachers, which would likely mean either students losing time with teachers, or teachers starting earlier. The district wants to maintain the current amount of prep time.

Here’s where the union’s top priorities — these three and two others — stood earlier this week.

9:37 a.m. Make-or-break talks

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is way out at O’Hare giving an update on the process to modernize the aging airport. Here’s her morning comment about where the strike stands — and it’s guarded.

9:04 a.m. Janice Jackson’s values

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson is reaching out to teachers through a Twitter thread where she says she’s on their side — but also has responsibility to the city’s bottom line. She compares the district’s spending to “a family putting gas and groceries on the credit card” and says fixes will come in time.

“The truth is, I want what all teachers want,” she writes. Later, she adds, “You have a partner in me. Let’s work together so we can all get back to doing what we love.”

7:30 a.m. AP news bulletin

Believe it or not, we’re still working on stories that aren’t about the strike. We just published one in partnership with Crain’s Chicago Business that examines the state of Advanced Placement access and enrollment.

We analyzed enrollment in the advanced courses over the last five years and found that Chicago’s award-winning AP enrollment boost has disproportionately benefited white and Asian students, while the number of black students taking the classes fell at a faster rate than the district’s overall black population.

The city is working with a Seattle-based nonprofit to reduce enrollment inequity in advanced courses, and we visited one school — Mather — where those efforts appear to be paying off. “We have had to change the mindset of teachers about why potential students are getting missed, and change the traditional narrative about what AP students are,” Principal Peter Auffant said.

7 a.m. On tap for today

Teachers returned to picket lines at their schools at 6:30 a.m. Later this morning, students at Lane Tech, one of the city’s most selective high schools, will rally to support their teachers, according to a union press release, which notes that the school’s homecoming was canceled due to the strike. And parents who say they support the union’s demands plan to outline their concerns with their children’s schools at an event in Pilsen.

There’s also one piece of business on the agenda that’s not strike-related. State lawmakers are holding a hearing about Chicago Public Schools’ special education policy at the Bilandic Building downtown. Teachers union members plan to testify about their experiences, according to the union advisory.