Chicago school board greenlights strike makeup days, but principals raise concerns

Chicago’s Board of Education voted Wednesday to add five days to the school calendar to partly make up for time lost during the 11-day teachers strike. The days include the day before Thanksgiving and two days each at the end of winter break and the end of the school year. 

But there’s no decision yet on whether schools will be penalized if students don’t show up, which has some principals worried. 

The makeup days, which allow teachers to recoup nearly half of their pay lost during the strike and allow students to gain lost classroom time, are Nov. 27, Jan. 2 and 3, and June 17 and 18.  

In a survey released Wednesday, three-quarters of principals queried by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association from Nov. 15 to Nov. 18 said their schools could be dinged in their attendance, which could drop their school’s quality rating by one level.

Average daily attendance counts for 20% of an elementary school’s quality rating and 10% of a high school’s rating, under the school district’s formula. The district wants to change the formula next school year.  

Principals of schools with 75% low-income students or more were more likely to believe their individual school rating would fall than principals with a third or fewer low-income students. But 86% of principals believed that ratings would be impacted systemwide. Slightly more than 400 principals responded to the survey, according to the association. 

Troy LaRaviere, an outspoken former principal who runs the association, told the school board Wednesday that some principals also expressed concern that they weren’t consulted before the district announced makeup days on social media. 

“Principals felt taken for granted because of the district’s failure to consult principals in this decision,” he said. 

He said several principals suggested that makeup days be placed at the end of the school year and be made non-attendance days for students, so that educators could focus on professional development and make plans for the start of the next school year. 

Schools chief Janice Jackson responded that wasn’t an option, because in the return-to-work agreement with the union, CTU leaders specified that the missed days should be instructional days. “That was not an option that was presented to us.”

Earlier in the meeting, the system’s No. 2 administrator, LaTanya McDade, said that the district labored over deciding which five days to choose out of 13 that were presented as options: “There was no ideal solution and nothing that would work for everyone,” she said. 

One scenario, extending the school year later in June for students, was unpopular with parents and would give the district little wiggle room to make up any days for inclement weather, she said. Chicago had to tack on days this past school year after a polar vortex plunged temperatures into negative digits. 

“We heard overwhelmingly from parents that extending school year into late June was a ‘poor option,’” McDade said. 

Principals also said in the survey that they had concerns about staffing makeup days. 

McDade told the board it is premature to make decisions about attendance and how it would impact ratings. “We are committed to monitoring the situation closely and listening to feedback,” she said, adding that inclement weather days, which are impossible to predict, will also factor in.  

Attendance is a controversial measure in the district’s school ratings policy, since it’s something that schools have little control over. The district is weighing changes that would lessen the impact of attendance on a rating. Those proposals are open for public review here. 

To read more about ratings, click here. 

State statute requires a school district to have 180 days, a total that includes teacher institute days and parent-teacher conferences, according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education. Before the strike, Chicago had eight days above that total; however, the work stoppage reduced CPS’ calendar by 11 days. So Chicago must make up a difference of at least three days to be in compliance.

The state does not dictate when those days should be. The only exceptions are state-mandated holidays.