By Juan Perez Jr.
Chicago Public Schools will provide about 250 "contingency sites" for students locked out of the classroom by a one-day teachers strike April 1, while also asking teachers who disagree with the walkout to report for work.
"Many teachers and schools were in opposition to the action that CTU leadership took yesterday," district CEO Forrest Claypool said during a news conference Thursday at Amundsen High School. "We welcome our teachers in the school, we want them to come to work that day."
CTU's House of Delegates on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the one-day walkout, which union leaders called to bring attention to school funding issues and the union's ongoing contract talks with CPS.
Details and costs of the district's April 1 plan have yet to be determined, but officials indicated that CPS won't be able to accommodate the more than 300,000 students affected by the walkout.
"We ask that if parents have another option, that they exercise that option," Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson told reporters. "However, we know that it's our responsibility to make sure there is a place that provides a safe and orderly environment."
While making plans for April 1, the district has offered students no alternatives for Friday, when schools will be closed because of a CPS-ordered furlough day. Asked why that was, Claypool did not answer directly.
"We knew we were not in a position to keep the schools open and operating that day with normal learning," Claypool said.
Friday is one of three furlough days ordered by the district in early March in an effort to save money. The union was quick to denounce the unpaid days off, and the furloughs sparked the union's initial calls for a walkout.
CPS has said as many as 8,000 staff members were planning to take the day, which is Good Friday, off and that principals were expecting absences "so widespread" that some planned to hold all-day assemblies in school auditoriums or screen movies for students.
"In light of the budget situation, and in light of the two other (professional development) days that were part of the furlough plan, we felt that was an appropriate day given that it's a religious holiday for many and the teachers had already spoken by calling in that they were going to exercise their rights not to be there on that day," Claypool said.
On April 1, in addition to school buildings, CPS expects to use Chicago Park District facilities and city libraries as places for students to go during the walkout. Engineers and principals will be at all schools.
"In order to have a safe level of adult-to-children ratio -- and to be able to provide the types of enrichment activities, to be able to feed the kids and other things, as well as some online learning opportunities -- we need to have our forces essentially concentrated in fewer places," Claypool said.
Claypool said teachers who don't want to strike could show up to work at their school or one of the alternate venues. Teachers who picket will not be paid. Claypool had no answer when asked if the district might pursue other disciplinary action against them.
Students will have access to "arts and crafts and other activities," Jackson said. "We want to make the most of it."
CTU's governing body approved the April 1 walkout by a vote of 486-124, the union said. The union maintains the one-day strike is legal but has also acknowledged it is entering untested legal territory because the move is outside the authority of state laws that dictate when teachers can walk off the job.
CTU leaders argue that the union has legal authority to strike because the district quit paying contractually mandated raises based on seniority and experience. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board denied an initial union effort to challenge the pay raise issue, but the case isn't settled.
Claypool said the district will ask the labor board to find the April 1 walkout illegal but seemed to accept that it cannot be stopped.
"When we get through this we will look at our legal options," he said.
"I think it's important to make clear the law is what it says it is," Claypool said. "I think that's important for, not just for this day but for years to come. I think it's important for people to understand what the law is. Some of these crazy statements that have been made, I think, need to be put to rest. The law means what the law says, and this is an illegal strike."
He also said there are "other remedies and other consequences from engaging in illegal activity" but did not elaborate.
"I'm not going to play lawyer," said Claypool, who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law and was editor-in-chief of the law review. "I'm going to talk to our lawyers and we'll do what we think is right and appropriate."
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