Mixed feelings for parents, students who wait to see if there will be a strike or a deal

“Part of me just wants to say: ‘The adults need to get in the room and figure it out and move forward, and stop the bickering because no one is benefiting from the bickering,’” said Mary Clare Maxwell, the parent of two CPS students.

SHARE Mixed feelings for parents, students who wait to see if there will be a strike or a deal

Cayleigh Maxwell, 13, left, her sister, Rory, 16, center, and mother Mary Clare Maxwell, stand together at Skinner Park, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Both Cayleigh and Rory are students at Chicago Public Schools. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

With a teachers strike looming that could further impact her kids’ education, Mary Clare Maxwell is left shaking her head at both Chicago Public Schools leaders and Chicago Teachers Union officials for their inability to strike a deal.

“I don’t have time for all the details,” Maxwell, who has two daughters in public schools, said about parsing inconsistent messages from each side about how negotiations are going.

“Part of me just wants to say: ‘The adults need to get in the room and figure it out and move forward, and stop the bickering because no one is benefiting from the bickering,’” said Maxwell, 47, who lives in the West Loop and has two daughters in public schools.

Her daughter, Rory, a sophomore at Jones College Prep, said she supports her teachers.

“If a strike is what it takes, then that’s what it takes, but I would definitely rather not miss out on anymore learning,” she said. 

She worries her studies, which she feels have been watered down by remote learning, will slip further if has to switch to a curriculum her mom plans to create and implement in the event of a strike.

“As good as my mom can explain things to me, she’s not a teacher,” she said.

Chicago Public Schools teachers were to continue teaching remotely this week as negotiations continue between school district leaders and the CTU, leaving parents and students in limbo.

Michael Farris, 45, a butcher from the Austin neighborhood, has two daughters at Michele Clark High School, and though they’re doing fine with remote learning, he’s heard from other parents whose kids would benefit greatly from being in school.

“I think it hurts some of these kids,” he said. “I think some need to be back in school.”

Farris said he’s not sure how best to make that happen, and he sympathizes with the concerns of both teachers and administrators, but something needs to be done quickly.

“Not knowing how this plays out, it’s a strain on everyone,” he said.

Amaya Ritsema is 7 and attends New Field Primary School in Rogers Park. She came to her mom Friday in tears over the possibility of returning to in-person learning.

“I’m worried about my teachers and my friends going back to school; they might get coronavirus,” Amaya said.

Her mother, Cortney Ritsema, 38, helped organize a “sick-out,” in which parents expressed solidarity with teachers’ demands by calling their kids out sick for the day on Monday.

“I’m a stay-at-home parent right now, and if there’s a strike I will continue educating my kids,” she said. “I understand that so many parents are not in that boat, and I can’t imagine how terrifying it is for them,” said Ritsema, who doesn’t believe the school district reopening plans are safe enough.

“But to me, the loss of one child is not an acceptable risk,” she said.

Ryan Griffin is a CPS parent and an organizer with Chicago Parents Collective, which represents parents from dozens of schools who are calling for families to have the choice to go with remote or in-person learning.

“These delays are stirring up more frustration, we just don’t know if this will ever come to an end,” he said. “It changes every night, there’s a lot of confusion and inability to plan. Parents are stressed. At some point you need to make progress.”

Isaias Esquivel, 12, who attends Andrew Jackson Language Academy in Little Italy, hopes in-school learning remains suspended until a vaccine can be widely distributed.

“The teachers — they’re people, too; they have families, some of them have kids,” he said.

His mother, Rosa Esquivel, 40, who has diabetes and worries her immune system wouldn’t be able to ward off COVID-19, hopes a bargain that includes remote learning will be hammered out. 

“I definitely believe prioritizing the lives of people is more important than having the schools reopen,” said Esquivel, who’s lost four family members to the virus.

James Keating, who has two daughters at Blaine Elementary School, was still hoping that his children could return to their classrooms later this week.

“Like everybody else, I would really like CPS and CTU to work out their differences,” said Keating, who was at Blaine on Monday picking up some study materials. “The kids really need to be back in school.”

Keating said he’s satisfied that CPS has done enough to make schools safe.

“I’ve seen the protocols. They’ve gotten it taken care of — at least as far as I can tell,” he said. “The experience from the Catholic schools in the city and other schools in the area shows that as long as they follow good protocol, they should be fine.”

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