Parents asked and we answered: A brief history of strike lengths

With a teachers strike that could start Oct. 17 and affect more than 300,000  students, Chalkbeat Chicago asked parents what they wanted to know. Below find answers to some questions about contingency plans and union politics. We will continue updating this document as more information becomes available.

How long could a teachers strike last? 

While each strike is different – the length of a walkout depends on a mix of politics, preparation and community support — teacher activism has resulted in several major strikes and work stoppages across the U.S. in the past two years, all of which have resolved within two weeks, and most of them within about one.

When Chicago teachers walked out on another black, progressive mayor, then Harold Washington in 1987, they struck for 19 work days. Chicago’s 2012 teacher strike lasted seven school days, while in 2016 teachers walked out for a day. 

Teachers in Los Angeles, who walked out in January over demands similar to those in Chicago, were on strike for six days, while teachers in Denver walked out for three days. The statewide West Virginia wildcat teachers strike in 2018 was on the longer end of recent teacher labor actions and lasted nine days. Educators went back to the classroom with a raise and a freeze on health care costs. Teachers in Oklahoma also struck for nine days, and in Arizona for five. 

If teachers go on strike, do children have to recover those lost days at the end of the school year? 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that schools would not make up any days missed during the strike. “We have zero plans to do that,” she said in a press conference last week. In other cases, such as adverse weather, the district lengthens the school day to accommodate missed classroom time. 

Can students go to school buildings during the strike?

Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson have said the 514 district-run schools impacted by the strike would remain open and minimally staffed by principals and non-unionized support personnel. Students can go to their own school, or any other age-appropriate school they choose during this time. 

Schools will operate on their normal bell schedules, the district said, but students won’t have regular classroom instruction. Instead, they’ll take part in activities led such as online learning, arts and crafts, or independent reading and writing.
Can students still get their meals?

According to the district, schools will still serve breakfast and lunch to students. The district is asking families to register their children so the district can have an estimate of the number that may need meals during the strike. 

What happens to services for kids with IEPs? 

Since classroom teachers and other support staff wouldn’t be at a school during a strike, the district said students with individualized education programs — for special needs students — will not be able to receive specific support.

However, said special education advocate Chris Yun with Access Living, the district is still legally obligated to provide services for students with disabilities. “Depending on how long the strike goes, it may trigger compensatory services for those students,” Yun said. She suggests parents check their child’s service schedule in advance and document any missing services during the strike so they can be made up once the strike is over. 

My student attends a charter school. She receives transportation from CPS as part of her individualized education plan (IEP). Will my student still receive transportation during a strike? 

The district won’t provide bus services to district-run schools, but charter and contract school buses will operate on their usual schedule. However, if the school service workers union goes on strike with teachers, students are unlikely to have a district-employed bus aide available, said Yun, with Access Living. However, some bus aides are not unionized under Local 73 and therefore would not be on strike Oct. 17.

Yun suggests that parents contact their school principal to confirm whether bus aide service would be provided to a charter students.

What can teachers strike over? Can the union legally strike on the demands around staffing?
Salary and benefits are among the few issues that a 1995 law permits the Chicago Teachers Union to strike over, so Chicago teachers can’t walk out over class sizes or nursing shortages alone, but they can use those concerns to argue that current wage offers are not good enough, labor experts said. 

You can find the district’s contingency plan website here, and email with any additional questions.