A mom who works the night shift struggling to get enough sleep while her kids are home during the day. A grandfather who’s pitching in while his daughter works. Out-of-state relatives driving in to help with childcare.
Across the city, as a teachers strike gobbled up its fourth day of classes Tuesday, parents said they were making do — by whatever means they could — while teachers walked picket lines in pursuit of higher pay, more support staff and better working conditions.
Negotiations ended Tuesday with no deal, and there are indications the strike could go through the end of the week or longer.
CPS said very few parents have brought their kids to schools, which are being staffed by principals and other non-union workers while teachers picket outside. On Thursday, the first day of the strike, the district said about 7,500 of 300,000 students attended. That number dropped to 6,500 on Friday and to 6,200 on Monday, before jumping back up to 7,200 on Tuesday.
Help from Wisconsin
For Candice Warltier, the parent of a fifth-grader at Alcott Elementary in Lincoln Park, the strike means spending money on babysitters and balancing her commitments day-by-day as she waits for the city and teachers to reach a deal — or announce classes are canceled. Warltier said she’s in a better position than many because she owns her own business and can set her own schedule. But even so, her mother came to town from Wisconsin for a few days to help out.
Still, if the strike lasts much longer, her patience will run out.
“Next week, that’s when I’ll start getting angry,” Warltier said.
In Pilsen, Christopher Mata said although his 1-year-old daughter isn’t in school yet, he sees how difficult the strike has made life for his sister.
“My sister works nights. She’s barely getting any sleep,” said Mata.
During the day, her 13-year-old son is watching her young children while she tries to sleep — not an easy task when it’s cold and rainy outside, he said.
Mata’s relatives have been pitching in by picking up each other’s kids and watching them when they can, depending on work schedules.
Maria Garduno has also relied on friends and relatives, although she brought her 5-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son to Orozco Community Academy in Heart of Chicago Tuesday.
Garduno’s son, Emiliano, said he missed going to his classes, but had fun at Orozco watching movies and proudly showed off a small pumpkin he had painted.
“We pick up each others’ kids, sometimes I drop them with a friend or their cousins,” Garduno said.
Grandpa pitches in
Robert Porter said he was watching his three grandchildren most days while they were out of school. All three kids attend Smyth Elementary in University Village.
“I’m helping out. Everyone helps out,” Porter said as he waited for his daughter to pick up her kids. “It’s too expensive” to pay for caregivers, he said.
Shantel Miller, whose 4-year-old son is in full-day kindergarten at Smyth, said she misses sending her son to school as much as he misses going.
“Cleaning up — I can’t do that with him around,” she said with a weary laugh. But she added: “It’s been stressful.”
The hardest part, many parents complained, was not knowing until the afternoon or evening whether their kids would have school the next day.
Jessica Ventura-Ewing, a therapist who works with young kids, including many from low-income families, agreed the whole situation is causing anxiety for even those who aren’t on the picket lines.
“We don’t have a choice. We’ll keep doing it for a long as we have to,” Ventura-Ewing said.
Low-income families are particularly vulnerable and have to make the hard choice to miss work and not get paid, or spend money on childcare, she said. At the same time, those kids stand to benefit from the city meeting the teachers’ demands.
Ventura-Ewing, who is also the parent of a first-grader at Peirce Elementary in Andersonville, said she’s concerned about the effect on the students, too, especially those having to walk past striking teachers on their way to school buildings. They also have holiday breaks over the next two months, which will also interrupt learning.
Not taking sides
Most of the parents who spoke to the Sun-Times on Tuesday said they hadn’t picked sides between the city and teachers.
Their children would benefit from many of the goals that teachers are striking over, in particular having a full-time nurse in every school and smaller class sizes, they said. At the same time, they understand the financial constraints facing Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city.
Though many initially thought the strike would be short-lived, they’re now trying to come to terms with the fact that schools might not reopen this week at all.
Deirdre Anglin, who has a first-grader at Boone Elementary in West Rogers Park, said she’ll hold half-day classes for her son and friends’ kids at her house if the strike continues much longer.
“I’ve got all the respect in the world for teachers,” Anglin said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Contributing: Mitch Dudek