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No Ruling Yet In CTU Strike

“Judge Delays Chicago Strike Ruling”
by Stephanie Banchero
Wall Street Journal
September 18, 2012

A judge declined on Monday to immediately order Chicago public-school teachers back into their classrooms, rebuffing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to end the six-day strike on the grounds that it is illegal.

The Chicago school district filed suit Monday morning asking Cook County Circuit Court Judge Peter Flynn to prohibit the union from striking, arguing that Illinois law bars the teachers from striking over noneconomic issues, such as layoffs, teacher evaluations and the length of the school day. It also said the strike, which it called a “weapon,” is a “clear and present danger to public health and safety” by keeping students out of school.

After a brief meeting with a school-district lawyer later Monday morning, Judge Flynn, a Democrat first appointed in 1999 and up for a retention vote in November, said he needed more time to look over materials before issuing a ruling. He scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.

The lawsuit came a day after the Chicago Teachers Union’s governing board declined to call an end to the strike, the first teacher walkout in the city in 25 years. The union delegates said they wanted more time to look over a tentative deal that was finalized just hours before a meeting Sunday afternoon. They also voiced unhappiness with the agreement.

The battle has catapulted Chicago into the national debate over teacher evaluations, job security and the power of labor unions and pitted Mr. Emanuel, a Democrat and former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, against organized labor.

Union leaders said the delegates would meet again Tuesday—there were no meetings Monday because of Rosh Hashana—to discuss the district’s latest contract offer, meaning classes couldn’t resume until Wednesday at the earliest. The city was hoping to force teachers back into the classroom Tuesday.

Chicago students must, by state law, attend 176 days of school, and district officials said it isn’t clear how students would make up for the missed time.

“We believe our kids should be in the classroom learning from their teachers, and we are doing everything we can to get them back there as soon as possible,” said Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Emanuel. The lawsuit says the district didn’t try to halt the strike earlier because it hoped to resolve the dispute via negotiations.

Stephanie Gadlin, a union spokeswoman, said teachers have the legal right to strike over evaluation procedures, compensation and classroom conditions. She said the city was trying to “trample free speech” and collective-bargaining rights.

While compensation isn’t the main sticking point now, pay raises were among the issues being negotiated, union officials point out. The tentative, three-year agreement calls for a 3% pay raise the first year and 2% the following two years with an option to extend, by mutual agreement, to a fourth year with a 3% raise.

Legal experts were divided over whether the Illinois law would permit a strike, noting the decision would be based on how the union argues its case. The Illinois Labor Relations Act doesn’t allow teachers to strike over some aspects of teacher evaluations, such as whether to use student test scores as a factor, but it could allow a walkout over more “procedural” issues, such as the specifics of observations by principals in the classroom, said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He said it is less clear whether teachers can hit the picket lines over layoffs and would depend on how they argue that in court. “It’s complicated law, and the judge will have to sort it out,” he said.

But as the strike reached its sixth day, parents were becoming frustrated with trying to find child care and with their kids’ loss of learning time.

“Kids are supposed to be in school,” said Mohamed Kallon, who was dropping off his two children at a North Side school that was offering meals and other services Monday morning. “I don’t know how they are going to catch up. I mean, are they going to recover the material?”

But the strike also seemed to be wearing on teachers. Last week, many of the picket sites had a festive atmosphere, with teachers enthusiastically marching in front of schools and chanting. On Monday, it seemed more solemn.

“Teachers are not as enthusiastic today,” said Stephanie Davis-Williams, 50, a first-grade teacher as she picketed in front of a school. “They are tired. They’ve been beating the pavement, and with all the marches and all the striking, we hope it pays off.”

The district lawsuit notes that about 84% of the district’s schoolchildren are poor and receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school. It also notes that students, many of whom live in dangerous areas, are at risk of violence when they aren’t in class.

The students “face the all too real prospect of prolonged hunger, increased risk of violence, and disruption of critical special education services,” according to the complaint. “A vulnerable population has been cast adrift by the CTU’s decision to close down the schools.”

Union president Karen Lewis has contended that teachers are fighting for students by pushing the district to cap the growing class sizes, air-condition schools and add more social workers, counselors and school nurses to campuses. She also argues that Mr. Emanuel extended the school day this year without any attention to making the longer day more academically enriching for students.

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