day one

Even as some buses roll, families struggle on strike's first day

Kayley, a student at Central Park East 2 (with head turned), traveled to school with his mother today. He took a city bus instead of a yellow bus because of a strike by school bus drivers.

Families across the city contended with unfamiliar transportation routes, incomplete information, and bad weather to get their children to school this morning, the first during a strike called by the bus drivers union.

Most bus drivers did not report to work today to protest the city’s decision not to extend seniority protections to current drivers when opening bids for new contracts with bus companies. Their union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, also picketed outside some bus depots, in some cases briefly impeding non-union bus companies from operating, and released a television ad that paints new bus drivers as dangerous.

But the Department of Education said 40 percent of buses actually did roll today, including 100 percent of routes serving children in prekindergarten. Those bus drivers work under contracts negotiated last year.

Just 12 percent of routes for students in general education were running today, while 60 percent of routes serving students with special needs were disrupted.

Preliminary data showed strong attendance citywide, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced at a city press conference where he praised parents for “being really focused on getting their kids to school.” But he said attendance at District 75 schools, which serve the city’s most disabled students, was down by about a quarter today.

Just over half of students made it to P811 in Manhattan, down significantly from the 90 percent average daily attendance rate, according to teachers there. Teachers at a Staten Island school, P721, reported similar figures.

A security guard who works in the housing project near the New York Center for Autism Charter School in Manhattan said he had not seen as many kids as usual arriving at the school this morning.

One mother, Lucia, said she made the commute by taxi from Tribeca — at great personal expense. Her son’s autism makes him unable to take public transportation. Even though the the city will reimburse the $31 cab fare each way, she will still lose four hours a day shepherding her son to school, going to work, picking him up, and returning home.

“The strike delays my workday by two hours. I have to transport him morning and afternoon,” she said. “So that’s four hours of unproductive time for me in terms of work. I only have four hours there, and what can I do in four hours?”

(The city’s reimbursement plan requires parents to front the costs of transportation by car for a week. “But what if parents don’t have any money?” asked Crystal, a teacher at an early learning center. “You’ll reimburse them, but who’s going to give them the money to get there?”)

Students arrive at the New York Center for Autism Charter School this morning. Many students who attend the school take buses whose drivers started a strike today.

Another mother at the school, who identified herself only as Grace, said she spent an hour and a half in traffic this morning with her son. “It’s terrible, and I’m going to be late to work,” she said.

At Central Park East 2, an unzoned school where many students take the bus, a mother named Carla said her flexible schedule meant bringing her children was not a problem today. But, she said, “it’s harder for [other] parents, especially the parents who work 9 to 5. … It’s a bad day out, too.”

Other students stayed home. Barbara, who works at P.S. 306 in East New York and asked that only her first name be used, said her daughter stayed home today. Tomorrow, she said, her daughter would be late to P368, a school for students with disabilities in Cobble Hill. “I have to get her to school when I get off at 9:30,” she said.

And dropping two of his siblings off at P.S. 306 before getting on the city bus to Urban Action Academy, Ricardo Medina said his other younger brother stayed home because his special education school was too far away.

“They’re really mad but I guess there’s nothing they can do if the bus people are going on strike,” Medina said about his parents.

The Department of Education has created a search tool for families to find out whether their school’s buses are running as usual. But some families evidently did not find out in time that their children’s buses would not be disrupted by the strike.

At P.S. 306, Principal Lawrence Burroughs said the school was operating normally because most students live nearby. But of the four buses that normally serve the school, just one showed up today, and it was empty, according to a school safety officer.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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