Lightfoot says she won’t tolerate any plan to shorten the school day

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel lengthened the CPS school day and school year. Elementary school teachers now want to add 30 minutes of paid preparation time at the start of their day, which could cut into students’ time in class.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks to reporters at City Hall on the morning after the Chicago Teachers Union and the union representing school support personnel and Chicago Park District employees set an Oct. 17 strike date.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday she will not tolerate any attempt by the Chicago Teachers Union to shorten the school day for elementary school students by adding a half hour of paid preparation time at the start of the school day.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel lengthened the school day and the school year. It was a signature educational achievement for the former mayor, who endured a seven-day teachers strike in 2012 to seal that victory. Emanuel even offered individual schools a bounty to implement the longer day immediately.

Now, Chicago’s elementary school teachers are looking to add 30 minutes of paid preparation time at the start of their day, a proposal with the potential to shorten the school day for students and roll back the clock.

But on the morning after the Chicago Teacher Union and SEIU Local 73 set an Oct. 17 strike date, Lightfoot said she won’t allow it.

“I can tell you this definitively: We’re never cheating our kids on the day of instruction. We’re not going to shorten the school day. That’s not going to happen,” the mayor said.

“Increasing the school day was a very hard fought win at least a contract ago, if not two contracts ago. We know that the kids have made progress because they get more instruction time. We’re not gonna take a retreat back from that.”

CTU Vice-President Stacy Davis-Gates categorically denied the union’s proposal for 30 more minutes of preparation time for elementary school teachers would shorten the school day for elementary school students.

“They want to roll back our preparation period. We want teachers to have more prep time. When our members take work home and do prep work for classrooms at home, that’s what you call unpaid labor,” Davis Gates said Thursday.

“It does not mean kids get a shorter school day. It’s a better school day with more things in it. You give them an art class. You give them a music class. You put them in a library with a librarian and give them a library class. That is not a shorter day.”

Davis Gates wondered aloud whether Lightfoot may be “borrowing talking points from Rahm Emanuel.”

“What is this — 2012? Who’s talking about shortening the school day? I have no idea what she’s talking about. We’re talking about nurses, social workers, counselors and smaller class sizes. There were 700 classrooms on the first day of school that did not have a permanent teacher,” she said.

Lightfoot was asked whether there was a way to accommodate the union’s demand without shortening the school day.

“I haven’t seen a proposal that meets with our responsibility to maintain instruction time,” she said.

The mayor said she remains singularly focused on using the two remaining weeks before the strike deadline to hammer out a deal fair to all sides.

But she reiterated her commitment to keep school buildings open no matter what to make certain students have a safe place to go and meals to eat. They will be staffed by school administrators, the mayor said. The city’s contingency plan will also rely on “community partners” to provide even more safe havens, she said.

Although schools staffed by administrators would provide no instruction, Lightfoot also said she has no plans to make up strike days at the end of the school year.

The 2012 teachers strike was a national embarrassment for Emanuel.

A 2019 version that includes a walk-out by 35,000 teachers, school support personnel and Chicago Park District workers, would likewise be a national embarrassment for Lightfoot.

Chicago’s second female mayor would start her term in the same, tumultuous way the first female mayor did. Jane Byrne faced a teachers strike, a firefighters strike and a CTA strike —all in her first 18 months as mayor.

On Thursday, Lightfoot was asked how embarrassing a strike would be at a time when she is a rising star in the national Democratic party.

“I don’t look at it that way at all. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about me or my power — or not. This is about our children,” she said.

“We have 360,000 children who depend upon CPS every single day to learn, to play, to grow and to be fed. When we think about a work stoppage, think about what that does for them. That’s what I think about every single day . . . How do we make sure that our children are safe and protected? But the primary focus is, let’s get a deal done.”

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