For the first time in 25 years, Chicago’s public school teachers reported to picket lines instead of classrooms on Monday morning, after contract negotiations with the school district broke down Sunday night.
The strike will affect nearly 400,000 students at 675 schools in the nation’s third largest school district.
Teachers are upset over a host of issues including the school district’s refusal to honor a scheduled 4 percent raise, rejected proposals regarding health benefits and a system that ties teacher evaluations to student standardized test scores.
"This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could've avoided," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Sunday, according to NBC News. "Throughout these negotiations, we've remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide students the education they so rightfully deserve."
However, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the positions of the two sides aren’t so far apart, calling the breakdown and subsequent demonstrations “a strike of choice.”
"I believe this is avoidable because this is a strike of choice," Emanuel said Sunday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In light of the strike, school officials launched their Children First contingency plan that will keep 144 schools open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be served, and students will be involved in two 55-minute “activity blocks” during the day.
Area churches have also chipped in and will provide a place for students to stay during the school day from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. through the city’s Safe Haven program. Free breakfast and lunch will be offered, and students will have the chance to engage in arts and crafts activities.
The strike will have large impact on the city's African-American and Latino families as the student population is composed of 42 percent Black students and nearly 44 percent Latino students.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the police department is "emptying" its offices to provide extra officers to patrol unsupervised children that may be roaming the streets in light of the strike.
Last week, Rev. Jesse Jackson weighed in on the mounting tension between the teachers' union and the district, and implored Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to step in and cool things down.
"There’s a lot at stake in this. That’s why it can’t just be a finger-pointing, it must be a circle of embrace, as opposed to finger-pointing,” Jackson said, according to CBS. “I hope the governor will see his role in this, because it’s within the state.”
Illinois currently ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to state funding of education.
It is not yet clear when Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union would return to the bargaining table.
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(Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)