Hundreds of thousands of school students in America’s third largest city, will be kept out of their classrooms until at least Wednesday, as a strike by more than 26,000 teachers and staff in Chicago continued into its second week.
“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a written statement Sunday night. “This continued action by union leadership is illegal on two grounds – it is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikeable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children.”
A Cook County Circuit Court judge on Monday declined a request by Emanuel and city attorneys to hold a same day hearing for an injunction to immediately end the teacher strike.
Judge Peter Flynn postponed the hearing until Wednesday, according to city law department spokesman Roderick Drew.
Chicago Teachers Union delegates are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to vote on a proposed contract.
The week-long strike appeared to be nearing an end on Friday, when the two sides announced a tentative agreement that would have sent 350,000 students back to class on Monday. But on Sunday Teachers Union delegates said they wanted to meet with the schools they represent before deciding whether to end the strike.
Teachers went on strike last week against education reforms sought by Emanuel, including evaluating teachers’ performance based on the standardized test scores of their students. They also want a guarantee to hire laid-off teachers when there is a job open anywhere in the school district.
“What’s happening in Chicago is rooted in years of devastating budget cuts, growing student needs in the face of dwindling supports, increased emphasis on testing over teaching, decisions to close schools and charter rather than fix them, and disrespect for teachers who have been required to implement policies made without their input and then blamed when they fail,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement.
Chicago teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, with an average salary of $76,000 according to the school district.
“I think what you’re seeing is push back from teachers against a bunch of reforms that have taken place in the last decade,” said Matthew Chingos, an education fellow with the nonprofit public policy group, the Brookings Institution. “You have school systems talking about, ‘let’s not give pay raises every year and keep them in their jobs regardless of whether they’re any good.’ Well, teachers have had that kind of job security for a long time now, and it’s something they fought for through these very powerful unions, and it’s not something they’re going to give up easily.”
Where private-sector workers may not expect much job security, teachers nationwide have since enjoyed a certain protected status without a rigid evaluation process, Chingos said.