As ice crunched underneath her tires and fat snowflakes fell from the sky Tuesday afternoon, Pavielle Williams drove through the parking lot of CICS Wrightwood Elementary School to pick up her daughter, a kindergartener.
“She missed last week because we were kind of supporting the strike, but now I have to go back to work,” said Williams, who works at Midway Airport, where she unloads luggage from airplanes.
Educators at CICS Wrightwood Elementary and three sister charter schools are on strike, going into their second week. The strike affects 180 teachers and paraprofessionals and about 2,200 students.
But only some families have taken advantage of the network’s offer to teach their children at schools staffed by non-union employees. As the strike drags on, more like Williams’ daughter may trickle back. She was one of 136 students who came to school at Wrightwood on Tuesday, while 30 attended CICS Ralph Ellison High School, 28 to CICS ChicagoQuest and none to CICS Northtown Academy, a high school, according to Chicago International Charter School’s figures.
While Williams supports the strike, and could take time off to care for her daughter, she said the network is late in informing parents whether the strike will continue the next day. “When we do get information it’s kind of last minute, so we are stuck trying to … call off work or scrounge for a babysitter,” she said.
The teachers union has accused the network of telling parents that students would be penalized if they did not attend school during the strike, though the network later issued a clarification that students would not be penalized.
Negotiators met most recently on Tuesday evening, but reported no progress as of 7 p.m.
Six days since teachers walked off the job, pay remains the biggest sticking point in negotiations. Teachers want pay parity with Chicago Public Schools teachers, but have rejected a compromise that includes cuts to social services and increased class sizes. Chicago International, meanwhile, argues that the union’s pay request would bankrupt the charter network within several years.
Negotiators also are haggling over a change to the length of the school day that teachers would like, to build stronger relationships with parents like Williams. Currently, teachers have to be at their desks one hour before school starts. They want a more flexible start time that would allow them to greet parents and students at the door, union officials said.
Betty Anderson, who was picking up her grandchildren up from Wrightwood on Tuesday afternoon, said her main concern was the quality of instruction. She added, “they should get smaller class sizes. And they don’t have enough books to educate these kids.”
She is particularly worried that her grandson, in eighth grade, is reading at a third-grade level. (Read Chalkbeat’s story about literacy in Chicago, where an estimated three in 10 adults in lack basic literacy skills.)
Does she believe the strike could address these concerns? “It should,” Anderson said. “They need to try to redirect the school.”
Williams wants to see teachers back in school soon. “I am hoping the teachers can come up with some kind of solution to give these people what they need, cause it’s affecting everybody,” she said.
She also wants teachers back in the classroom because her kindergarten daughter is feeling the teacher’s absence. “My daughter loves her teacher,” Williams said. “She’s kind of missing her.”