Charter school teachers announce strike, saying demands aren’t met

Teachers for one of the city’s largest charter school networks will launch a strike Tuesday morning.

The Chicago Teachers Union will spearhead the first teacher strike in Chicago since 2012, marking the first time in the country’s history that a group of charter school educators banded together for a network-wide walkout.

“Management had the power to settle a contract tonight — and instead they offered us more of the status quo,” Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said in a press release early Tuesday. “We will be on the picket line until they come back with an offer that respects our students and the people who educate them.”

Starting Tuesday, 550 teachers and paraprofessionals won’t show up for classes, forcing Acero’s management to shutter its doors. Acero is encouraging parents to keep their kids at home, but if that is not possible, they have listed many Chicago Park Districts and some YMCA locations as an alternative. A complete list of school-specific resources can be accessed on its website.

Since May, teachers have been negotiating with Acero’s management team for better pay, enhanced special-education resources, sanctuary schools and reduced class sizes.

A bargaining meeting was in session Monday evening ahead of a midnight strike deadline. But Sharkey said the negotiations were not fruitful.

“For us, this is about bringing good conditions in our school and having fair treatment for the people who work in those schools,” Sharkey said. “We obviously would prefer to get it and be in our classrooms tomorrow.”

However, “we have not seen progress,” he said.

Hilary Naffziger, a seventh-grade teacher at Acero’s Carlos Fuentes Elementary School, said her classes are filled to capacity.

“My students … shouldn’t have to fight for my attention day after day in a classroom filled with 30-plus students,” she said. “It isn’t fair for me that I have to parse out this attention. I should be able to confidently teach my students and know every day they leave my room with the knowledge that they need.”

Naffziger is one of many educators sitting at the bargaining table, and she is also demanding that Acero campuses become sanctuary schools.

Sanctuary schools promise to protect members of their student body as well as their families. It will prevent federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering their campus without a court order, warrant or subpoena.

Martha Baumgarten has taught fifth grade at Acero’s Carlos Fuentes Elementary School for six years and said the majority of the school’s population are living in constant fear because of their immigration status.

“We are fighting for sanctuary schools; 90 percent of our students or more of our students are Latinx. Many of them are facing immigration issues either themselves or with their families,” Baumgarten said. “We are demanding that no information is shared with ICE, that no one is let inside our schools without a warrant, that resources are provided to our families and our staff to help them stay in the country.”

Sharkey said the CTU’s continued fight against charter school expansion in Chicago doesn’t mean it shouldn’t represent those working in the networks.

“We are not against the people that work in that industry, we are not against the idea that people should have a good school,  and that includes students that go to charter schools,” Sharkey said. “We have opposed charter school expansion because we believe this is an industry that is putting money into expansion but not into actually helping the students they already have or are already working for those schools.”

Acero, on the other hand, believes CTU is threatening a strike to make an “example out of charter schools.”

“While we are disappointed at the strike announcement, we are not entirely surprised,” Noelle Gaffney, a spokesperson for Acero Schools, said Monday. “We were in negotiations all weekend and again today. Acero Schools is deeply committed to arriving at a mutually agreeable solution. We won’t leave the bargaining table until this is resolved.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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