Chicago teachers went on strike Thursday, marching on picket lines after failing to reach a contract deal with the nation's third-largest school district in a dispute that canceled classes for more than 300,000 students. The strike came after the Chicago Teachers Union confirmed Wednesday night that its 25,000 members would not return to their classrooms, the AP reports. It follows months of negotiations between the union and Chicago Public Schools that failed to resolve disputes over pay and benefits, class size, and teacher preparation time. Also striking are 7,000 support staffers, whose union also failed to reach a contract agreement. Picketing teachers said Thursday the walkout was about getting more resources and smaller class sizes for students in the cash-strapped district, not about putting more money in their pockets.
Outside Smyth Elementary, a predominantly black and low-income school on the city's near South Side, art teacher John Houlihan said "we're not fighting for paychecks and health care. It's the kids. It's ridiculous to say that you can put these kids who are dealing with profound poverty and profound homelessness in classes of 30-40 kids. That's not manageable and it is not an environment for learning." The strike is Chicago's first major walkout by teachers since 2012 and city officials announced early Wednesday that all classes were canceled for Thursday in hopes of giving more planning time for parents. District officials said they will keep all buildings open during school hours, staffed by principals and employees who usually work in administrative roles. Breakfast and lunch will be served, but all after-school activities and school buses are suspended.
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