Teachers strike leaves parents scrambling: ‘As long as they’re on strike, I can’t work either.’
BY KARA SPAK AND MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporters September 10, 2012 8:00PM
Martina Watts, a parent at Hefferan Elementary School on first day of Chicago teachers' strike Monday, September 10, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times
- Teachers strike heads to Day Two; Board chief tells union ‘we should resolve this’ Tuesday
- Map: Schools, churches, other sites open for students during strike
- Video: Teachers picket throughout Chicago
- CTA offers free rides to CPS students during strike
- Teachers, supporters march at Mount Greenwood schools, ward office
- Analysis: Teachers strike leaves Emanuel between a rock and a hard place
- IHSA denies CPS waiver to continue sports amid strike — but practices might continue
- Hard facts behind union, board dispute
- Aldermen back mayor, but parents with teachers
- CPS’ contingency half-day programs were open the first day of the strike
- The remaining issues in dispute, according to Rahm Emanuel
- Telecommuting, emergency care benefits ease workplace strike issues
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:13AM
The strike sweats are sweeping Chicago, a citywide epidemic characterized by stressed-out parents and confused children who don’t know when a cure is coming.
Less than a week after the bulk of Chicago Public Schools students and parents started their back-to-school routines, from early morning wake-up to late-night homework supervision, it all came to a screeching halt when teachers hit the picket lines Monday.
Regardless of their feelings about the strike, parents and guardians frantically sought last-minute child care, pleaded with their bosses for leniency and hoped that their kids would return to school sooner rather than later.
In some cases, students and parents arrived at schools, unaware classes were canceled Monday. At other schools, parents were highly mobilized, developing babysitting co-ops and publicizing alternatives to the CPS-sponsored Children First strike contingency plan.
Citywide for thousands of families, stress was high and consequences were real in a situation with an abrupt, late-night beginning and an unknown ending.
“I might be losing my job over this,” said Martina Watts, 38, as she dropped her kids off at Hefferan Elementary in Garfield Park. “As long as they’re on strike, I can’t work. I’m not getting paid, either.”
Watts said the strike forced her to stay away from her temporary job as a machinist so that she could pick up her daughter, Trinity, and son, Jayvon, when the school closes early at 12:30 p.m.
More than six miles north, at Reinberg Elementary in Portage Park, Jasmine Rivera waited for three of her five children to exit the morning contingency school.
“Why would you start them and go on strike when you’ve been [negotiating] since November?” Rivera said.
Rivera said her youngest, twins in kindergarten, woke up at 6 a.m. every day last week excited to go to school. She didn’t want to stop that momentum and sent them to Reinberg though they normally attend Falconer Elementary.
“I don’t want to break the routine,” she said.
Not like 1987
In 2000, families with two working parents became the majority in the United States, placing this group of CPS parents in a potentially more challenging situation than those that navigated the last CPS strike, in 1987. The ongoing economic downturn has also placed more pressure on working, middle-class parents.
At Mount Greenwood School at 108th and Homan, several grandmothers came to retrieve the children at the contingency program, saying their daughters or sons couldn’t leave their jobs to do so. Pickup time for the schools in the program was 12:30 p.m.
Mom Janell Midderhoff raced from her job at Victoria’s Secret on Michigan Avenue to Mount Greenwood to get her two sons at the temporary day care program.
“I had to leave work early to make sure I get them by the 12:30 mark,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t go on for more than today. I can’t keep leaving work to get them.”
Michelle Herrera was planning on spending Monday looking for a job but instead tried to homeschool her three grandchildren, all students at Mary Lyon School near Austin and Wellington.
One of her grandsons wasn’t interested in reading at home, so she told them to put their school uniforms on and called 311 to find out if there was a contingency school nearby. They arrived at Reinberg late and were told to return tomorrow.
“I can’t do this until the strike is over,” she said. “I respect teachers, but this is hard for me.”
Patricia Jones, 32, arrived at Mays Elementary Academy, 838 W. Marquette, with her 6-year-old daughter as the half-day program was ending.
“I didn’t even know they were going to have these programs until today, so I didn’t sign her up over the weekend like they said to do,” said Jones, a stay-at-home mom. “There’s no way I can have her at home all day. I don’t even know how long this strike’s going to last. If they’re full, I’m going to have to find something for her, anything, because there’s no way I can keep this little girl busy enough.”
‘Make it a snow day’
The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago opened strike camps in 10 of its centers. None were full Monday, but spokeswoman Sherrie Medina thinks they may be completely booked by Wednesday.
“We anticipated that today the parents would kind of make it a snow day, stay home and wait and see,” she said on Monday. “If it looks like things are going to continue, we think the need will increase as the week goes along. People can’t just stay at home and take a vacation day or sick day.”
While the YMCA is one of the city’s more affordable strike options, the extra expense wasn’t welcome by working parents.
“It’s not ideal,” said Kim Manning, a public relations director and mother of a 7-year-old and 4-year-old at CPS schools. “I would rather not have to spend this extra money, but it’s what we have to do to make it work.”
Manning spent $45 for her older son to attend the YMCA camp and paid the mom of a fellow pre-K student $12 an hour to babysit her youngest.
‘At least 200 phone calls’
About 65 kids were at Sweet Holy Spirit Church in the South Shore neighborhood on Monday, part of an effort by pastors to offer their churches as a safe place in some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Catholic Charities is providing meals for the kids there, said Sean Howard, church spokesman.
“When the ambulance passes every day, [parents] want to know that their kid is in school and not in the ambulance,” Howard said.
He expected a bigger turnout Tuesday.
“We’ve gotten at least 200 phone calls in the last three hours,” he said on Monday afternoon.
Though they’ve received some calls from worried parents of public school kids, Chicago’s Catholic schools haven’t yet seen an uptick in enrollment linked to the strike. And, officials with the Archdiocese stressed Monday: “We don’t want to take advantage, nor be taken advantage of.”
“It’s just wait and see. I’ve had some contacts, but we’ve told teachers and principals don’t add any classrooms” yet, said Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, schools superintendent for the Archdiocese. “We’ve had contacts from parents, some of them saying, ‘Okay, it’s time. We’ve been considering this. Now it’s time to have something stable.’“
Calls to St. Benedict and St. Bartholomew on the North Side and to St. Cajetan and St. Christina on the South Side showed no transfers. Officials at the schools said it was too soon to see a reaction to the strike.
“I’ve had two inquiries today, but not because of the strike,” said Joe Accardi, an admissions officer for St. Ben’s near Irving and Damen.
Complicating matters are the different schedules for the public and Catholic systems — and the fact that a number of Catholic schools may already be near capacity. The admissions process at Catholic schools can involve parental interviews, tours, and the submission of report cards — even from preschool or kindergarten, for younger children.
“People are kind of waiting to see what happens, if the strike gets settled,” said Martin McHugh, principal of St. Bart’s at Addison and LaVergne. “We’ve been in school for four weeks. A lot of public schools have been in session three or four days.”
‘Too good to be true’
Throughout the city, teenagers wandered the streets with their friends, enjoying a picture perfect September day in Chicago.
“I thought it was too good to be true — I didn’t think it was going to happen,” said Luis Garcia, 15, a sophomore at Schurz High School, of Monday’s strike. Garcia and buddy Christopher Kujawa, 18, a Foreman senior, were heading to Chopin Park on the Northwest Side to meet up with other friends who were not in school.
“We’re just chillin’,” Garcia said.
Levi Applebaum, 16, a Lane Tech junior, wandered with two friends near Bell on Monday morning. He said since CPS students could ride CTA buses for free on Monday, they planned to take advantage, possibly heading downtown.
“We’re walking around, we’ll take a few free bus rides,” he said.
Lane Tech senior Daisy Aviles, 17, from Humboldt Park, spent her morning carrying a homemade sign and walking the picket line with her Lane Tech teachers. She was finishing homework for a law class Sunday evening when she heard the strike announcement.
“When they told us the strike was going on, my heart was in my throat,” she said. “I was ready. I bought poster board over the weekend.”
She said her parents supported her efforts, but she had a hard time finding friends to join her at the picket, which started at 6:30 a.m.
“Some of my friends are sleeping,” she said.
Contributing: Kim Janssen, Maudlyne Ihejirika and Sandra Guy