If the Chicago Teachers Union goes on strike, CPS has plans to open about one-third of public schools for a half-day, serving meals to students and offering some activities–but no instruction. Meanwhile, community groups are scrambling to see if they can pull together their own plans for students if teachers decide to walk out.

On Thursday, CPS released some details of its strike contingency plan. (A copy of the CPS press release is at the bottom of this article.) The Board of Education gave district officials the go-ahead at their August meeting to spend $25 million to provide programming for children.

CPS also is working with the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Library to provide other opportunities for students. For one, about 70 summer camps will be extended.

District officials are asking central office staff and non-CTU employees to submit proposals to run activities in the schools. State law prohibits instruction from taking place, but children will be encouraged to do independent reading and writing and work on the computer, according to the CPS press release.

Sports are another possibility, with CPS announcing that the district has applied for a waiver from the Illinois High School Sports Association to allow fall athletics to go on, even if the strike happens. Strikes are supposed to halt games and practices, but if teams miss too many games, they can be taken out of playoff contention.

Wendy Katten, who runs the parent group Raise Your Hand, said she was surprised at the proposed hours of CPS’ programming: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she says. “Parents work a full day. I would rather coordinate a day that helps working families.”

Katten says that over the next weekend, she will be working with parent leaders to identify churches and other places that could be open. Also, some stay-at-home parents might be able to care for some extra children.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when teachers’ strikes took place almost on a regular basis, churches and other organizations opened their doors and provided some activities.

But the last strike was 25 years ago, and many say that only when the 10-day strike notice was issued did they realize they should be developing plans.

Katelyn Johnson, executive director of Action Now Institute, said the group is looking at opening up some community centers (members would have to OK the plans). They would like to providing arts and music programming, as well as history lessons about the community.

“All the things that are not done during the school year,” she says.

Other organizations that provide after-school programs are looking at whether they can extend the time into the day. Garrette Horne, who is the director of Freedom Schools in Woodlawn, said finding money to offer a full day of programing might be a tall task at such short notice.

Mary McClelland, spokeswoman from Stand for Children, said her organization doesn’t have the capacity to provide programming. But it is looking at compiling some resources for children and perhaps holding a tele-town hall meeting to get the word out.

The union, of course, would rather see the contingency plan money spent on educational materials or classes.

“That money would go a long way in ensuring there are working computers in every school, textbooks on day one, and certified teachers to give our kids art, music, world languages, civics and physical education courses,” says CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. “The first item on any ‘contingency plan’ should be to settle this contract.”

CPS officials also pointed out the logistical problems that arise when teachers go on strike. Some of the problems would only arise should the strike go on for weeks. For example, CPS’ press release noted that seniors could be delayed in applying for colleges, yet most applications are not due till October at the earliest. Also, students will miss practice time for the ACT.



Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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