Students, Teachers Return to Chicago Public Schools After Strike

Students and teachers alike returned to classes at Chicago Public Schools on Friday after missing 11 days due to a teachers strike. 

The Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot reached an agreement Thursday to end the teachers strike after more than two weeks. 

"I'm happy to announce that we have reached an agreement with CTU President Jesse Sharkey," Lightfoot told reporters. "Classes will resume tomorrow."

"We feel like we achieved a lot of things," Sharkey said at a separate news conference. "There are some things we didn’t achieve, but it’s not a day for photo opps and victory laps."

Lightfoot and the union both called for compromise earlier in the day on making up missed instructional days, the final sticking point in negotiations.

In the end, kids will make up five days and return to school Friday, Lightfoot said, noting that she invited Sharkey to make a joint announcement about the strike's resolution and he declined.

"Frankly, our members are still out there on picket lines," Sharkey said in response. "They don’t need to see me smiling with the mayor when in fact what they need to see is we have a tentative agreement, we have a return to work agreement." 

The strike marked its 11th day of canceled classes Thursday, even after the union shared that a "monumental agreement" was reached the day before.

CTU said on several occasions that the major issues at the center of the strike were class sizes and staffing, both areas that the union and the district highlighted in the tentative agreement.

Both CTU and CPS said the district would dedicate $2.5 million in recruitment and training programs for clinicians, as well as $2 million in tuition and licensure for nurses.

The district will also make "increased investments in 'grow your own' teacher pipeline programs and 50 percent tuition reimbursement for English language and bilingual endorsement programs," both CTU and CPS said.

CTU said early Thursday that the agreement included a nurse and a social worker in every school community every day, a demand that the union placed at the center of the strike.

CPS also committed $35 million annually to reduce oversized K-12 classrooms, the union said, with a priority on schools with "the most vulnerable students." That figure is more than five times the $6 million that was previously committed to oversized classroom relief in the previous contract, according to CTU.

The union touted "unprecedented enforcement mechanisms" for class sizes, including what the district called a joint CTU/CPS council with "enforcement authority" that investigates instances of oversized classrooms and makes changes to remedy the situation.

The union also said the hard cap on class sizes was "automatically triggered" in the tentative agreement - meaning any time a class goes over the limit by a set amount (differing based on grade level), that class would automatically be referred to the joint committee, with relief mandated in the contract.

The offer also includes a 33% increase in annual funding for the district's sports committee, bringing the budget up to $5 each year for increases to coaching stipends as well as new athletic equipment and resources.

The length of the contract - another sticking point, as the union said they wanted three years, while Mayor Lori Lightfoot wanted five - landed on five years, per a Tuesday release from CPS on its latest offer.

Compensation was one area where the terms of the deal appear to not have moved much, staying at an average 16% increase over the life of the contract.

Paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs) will see an average raise of nearly 40% over the course of the contract - an issue the union highlighted throughout negotiations as necessary, saying that two-thirds of CPS' PSRPs made wages below the federal poverty line.

More than 25,000 teachers and support staff in CTU, as well as roughly 7,500 school employees in Service Employees International Union Local 73, went on strike Oct. 17, canceling school for more than 300,000 students in the country's third-largest school district.

SEIU announced Wednesday that it approved an agreement with the district, but that its members would remain on the picket lines with CTU until the strike was over, walking into schools together on Friday. 

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