Braced against the wind and blinding snow Thursday afternoon in West Town, crossing guard Karen Kuffel’s smile was as bright as her yellow safety coat when she learned that kids would be returning to school Friday after 11 missed days of class.
“Oh, it’s gonna be heaven,” Kuffel said of the end of the longest teachers strike since 1987.
The crossing guard, who has been helping get kids to school safely for 26 years, said she’s been pretty bored lately. Even though most students weren’t attending Talcott Elementary School were she works, Kuffel dutifully stood at her corner throughout the strike.
“I haven’t had very much to do. It’s been very boring,” she said. “It’s good for the city and it’s good for the kids. But I’m glad it’s over.”
A sense of relief over the end of the strike was widely shared Thursday — especially by parents.
Emily York only learned the strike had been called off when she came to pick up her son at nearby Mitchell Elementary School, where she had been dropping off the first-grader for a half-day while she works.
“He’s been having fun,” York said. “They’ve been doing science projects.”
Administrators said they regularly had a few dozen students at the school each day of the strike.
“It’s been a bit of a juggle,” York said of having to balance child care and work while teachers were on the picket line. York said she supported the strike, but was “very happy” to learn it had ended.
At A.N. Pritzker School in Wicker Park, Mark Reitsma, an investor whose daughter Zoe attends kindergarten at the school, called the end of the strike “a big relief.”
While Zoe has spent all the nixed school days at Pritzker, Reitsma said the cancellation of after-school activities forced him to miss work.
“My days have been a lot shorter,” he said. “It’s very disruptive. But I imagine there’s a lot of other parents that have been a lot more disrupted by this.”
Though Reitsma said he believes “teachers and schools should get more,” he wasn’t happy that classes were canceled again Thursday over a new dispute between the teachers union and city over how many of the missed days to make up.
“I’m behind the teachers, but there has to be a bit of sacrifice,” he said.
For a group of students from Bogan High School in Ashburn who spent the day at the Field Museum, which offered them free admission during the strike, news that classes would start again also came as a comfort.
Nieves Mandujano said she wasn’t sorry to see their impromptu, early winter break come to an end.
“I’ve missed a lot. I barely remember where we left off,” the junior said. “And now I’m concerned lessons are going to be squeezed together.”
Mandujano said she was able to keep up with PSAT study prep during the two-week walkout by spending time at the library and on the internet.
“A lot of kids don’t have internet. It’s going to be a hard time catching up,” she said of her fellow classmates.
But Mandujano supported the teachers during the work stoppage, even joining teachers in a picket line near Bogan and taking part in a CTU rally downtown soon after the strike started.
“We have classes [at Bogan] with 40, sometimes 50 kids packed into one room. They were fighting for something important,” she said.
Although many schools canceled Halloween parties because of the strike, some said they would allow kids to dress up on Friday.
Even as the Gordon family was collecting candy from businesses at Navy Pier Thursday, mother Lindsey Gordon said her daughter was looking forward to returning to school.
“We’re ready and glad that hopefully they got what they wanted, and then it would all be worth it,” Gordon said.
Contributing: Ro Coleman