MEDIA WATCH: CTU vote had barely been taken when Sun-Times and others began covering scab centers as biggest part of the 'news'

The overwhelming vote of the CTU House of Delegates to strike September 10 had barely been taken before the Chicago Sun-Times and other corporate media picked up their cues from the talking points distributed by CPS propagandists and sent their "news" columns into spin mode on behalf of the administration of Chicago Public Schools. It was almost as if Chicago's corporate media wanted to give an example of how "in the tank" they were with the Emanuel administration, or prove that the words of CTU President Karen Lewis — If you don't hear it from CTU, it's not true! — were what teachers had to put into their lesson plans.


Chicago teachers set Sept. 10 strike date; CPS to open half-day schools. BY ROSALIND ROSSI and FRAN SPIELMAN Staff Reporters August 30, 2012 11:52AM

Updated: August 31, 2012 2:26AM The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates unanimously agreed Thursday to send members out on a strike of the nation’s third-largest school district starting Sept. 10, with their leader declaring “enough is enough.”

Chicago Public School officials responded by hammering home the impact of the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years: 350,000 students would be kept from classrooms, 11,000 athletes would be denied varsity sports, and the transcripts and recommendations of 20,000 seniors would be “put on hold.’’

“If our priority is our kids, then strikes should never be an option,’’ Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in an emailed statement.

Some 700 Chicago Teachers Union delegates thundered “aye” Thursday after CTU President Karen Lewis put forward a motion to set Monday, Sept. 10 -- the beginning of the second week of school for most kids -- as a strike date. The union hall fell silent as Lewis asked for “nay” votes, observers said.

The sentiment on the floor and in schools, Lewis told reporters afterwards, was: “Enough is enough. We’re done. . . .

“We’ve said from the beginning that we are tired of being bullied, belittled and betrayed. We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us and we continue to be vilified and treated with disrespect.’’

Thursday’s action followed Lewis’ decision Wednesday to file an “intent to strike’’ notice that allows the union to wage a walkout at any time after 10 days of labor peace.

That made Sept. 10 the earliest possible day for a strike. The delegates made it official Thursday.

At least one possible loophole remains. Late in the afternoon on Sept. 5 -- the second day of school for most kids -- the House of Delegates is having its regular monthly meeting. If substantial enough progress is being made at the bargaining table, delegates could cancel or delay the strike date during that meeting.

Lewis said Chicago Public School officials have not budged from the “last, best” salary and wage offer they placed in May before a fact finder who ultimately declared the relationship between the two sides “toxic.’’

At that time, the CPS was offering four years of two percent raises and the halt of all “step and lane’’ salary bumps for seniority and credentials.

Teachers have derided the offer as “insulting,’’ contending it does not reflect the 4 percent negotiated raise they were denied this past school year and the 10 extra days they are being required to work this school year.

“We do not want a strike but apparently the Board does,’’ Lewis said.

In the next 10 days, Lewis urged, parents should call CPS officials and “put pressure on them to settle this.’’

In the event of a strike, CPS officials say, 11,000 student athletes would be left in the lurch. Games and practices would be canceled in the fall varsity sports of football, soccer, swimming, diving, cross country, golf, softball, tennis and volleyball.

As a result, CPS officials sent a letter Thursday to the Illinois High School Association, asking that they be allowed to explore “an exception’’ to current bylaws that prohibit athletic teams from practicing during a strike. Some 90 percent of CPS coaches are CTU members, but teams can practice if they have properly credentialed coaches, the letter noted. The letter did not directly say the system wanted to use non-CTU members as coaches, but it did say “we would like to explore an exception that could allow our students to continue with Varsity sports in the event of a strike.’’

Also Thursday, CPS officials started reaching out to parents — through letters, text messages, robo-calls and in a “tele-town hall” meeting — to reassure them that their children will be fed, supervised and occupied in the event of a teachers strike.

The plan that could cost up to $25 million includes opening 145 schools between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the event of a strike. The schools will be staffed by principals, assistant principals, central office employees, parent volunteers and other non-CTU staff.

Elementary and high school students will be housed in separate facilities, but all participating students will receive a cold breakfast and lunch “that meet USDA requirements,” officials said. Parents will be able to register their kids online.

A so-called “request-for-proposals” (RFP) due back Tuesday invites community groups, non-profits and other organizations to help “staff schools and provide non-instructional programming.” The request requires no more than 25 students for every staff member, a “security-to-student ratio” capped at 100 to 1 and that all supervisors staff be required to pass background checks.

“While academic instruction will not be provided [because it’s prohibited by law during a teachers strike], students will participate in positive activities to keep them engaged,” according to a CPS fact sheet distributed Thursday. “Examples include arts, sports, journaling, independent reading and writing, puzzles and computer-based programs.”

As many as 80 Chicago Park District summer camps could be extended to accommodate students and 79 public libraries could be opened to them.

The fact sheet does not list specific schools that would be open during a strike.

It simply states that schools will be chosen based on size and location, “with preference given to those with strong leadership, air-conditioning, a gym and cafeteria, computer labs and proximity to public transportation.”

Without offering details, the fact sheet states that CPS is also working with the CTA and the Police and Fire Departments to “ensure safety and provide additional services.”

Among the other impacts of a strike: High school seniors who need to have their transcripts, ACT scores and teacher recommendations forwarded to colleges would see delays. Twenty-thousand high school juniors could miss practice tests for the ACT. And International Baccalaureate students could miss “key coursework needed to prepare for exams.”

In his letter to parents, guardians and caregivers, Brizard describes the contingency plan as “merely a precaution” and states, “We have every hope and expectation that we will not have to implement it.” However, he says, “We must be prepared.”

Lewis Thursday questioned the effort spent on the contingency plan.

“Instead of the board making contingency plans, they need to settle the problem,’’ she said.


By Joel Hood and Bridget Doyle, Chicago Tribune reporters. 12:45 a.m. CDT, August 31, 2012

The Chicago Teachers Union on Thursday set a strike date of Monday, Sept. 10, while the school district began reaching out to parents with information on programs that will be available for their children if classes are canceled.

The district said it is sending letters, emails and text messages and making robocalls to parents to pass along information on the status of the potential strike and a contingency plan should teachers walk. The district said it also is working to organize a telephonic town hall meeting for parents next week.

In addition to opening 145 schools for a half-day in the event of a strike, the district is asking community organizations to submit proposals for providing activities for children. A list of programs could be available to parents by Tuesday, when the majority of the district's students return to class, the district said.

Parents will have to enroll their children in the district-sponsored programs by phone or online — but the district is not opening enrollment yet because a walkout still could be averted.

"We don't want parents to go through the efforts of signing up if there's no need," Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll said. "We're hopeful we'll reach an agreement."

CPS has asked the state's governing body for high school athletics for permission to hold practices and host sporting events even if teachers decide to walk out.

CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard said in a statement that among other issues, "college transcripts and recommendations for 20,000 seniors will be put on hold" in the event of a strike, making it crucial that the 11 remaining days be used to "reach a fair resolution for our teachers."

The union's house of delegates unanimously approved the strike date of Sept. 10, the first day of the second week of school for most students, President Karen Lewis said after Thursday's meeting.

"We have been telling our parents and the city to prepare for this," Lewis said. "We do not want to strike but apparently the board does — because if they didn't, we wouldn't be in this situation where we are today."

Lewis said negotiations are scheduled every day until Sept. 10, including through the Labor Day weekend.

Both sides are working to build community support for a settlement. Lewis on Thursday urged parents to call the school board and "put pressure on them to settle this." Radio ads asking concerned parents to text the word "compromise" to add their name to an online petition against a teachers strike are being paid for by a privately funded education reform group that has backed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's efforts to overhaul education in the city.

Community groups active in education say parents are growing more frustrated as the standoff with teachers drags on.

"They think both parties are grandstanding and no longer have the children's best interests at heart," said Juan Jose Gonzalez, director of the Chicago chapter of the reform advocacy group Stand for Children. "They think it's all political nonsense."

Wendy Katten, director of the political action group Raise Your Hand, said there is little consensus among parents about which side is to blame. Some now are weighing their child care options in the event of a walkout, she said.

And most want the district and its teachers to turn their attention back to the many problems facing the city's schools.

"(Parents) are so burnt out on this district and the sad state of public education in this city," Katten said. "I think a lot of them genuinely worry about the future."

Details of CPS' contingency plan have yet to be finalized. In addition to opening schools, the district likely will partner with other city agencies, including the Chicago Park District, to extend 70 to 80 summer camps. Dozens of libraries also might be used to provide computer access.

Despite the union rhetoric, many teachers are just as nervous as parents about a strike. Julie Ciesz, a paid part-time teacher aide at Columbia Explorers Academy, has a son at the school and is also a member of the teachers union. She said a strike would be a double whammy for her family and the prospect is already proving a distraction for some teachers and staff.

"Staff is worried, teachers are worried," Ciesz said. "It's hard not to think about it."

Some parents are taking their concerns directly to their alderman.

"I think parents are nervous," said Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, whose North Side ward has seven public grammar schools and four high schools. "I understand there are plans to get kids into (schools and other facilities if there is a strike.) But that's only for half a day."

He added: "We're just trying to hold our breath, and hopefully there is a deal and they just continue with school."

Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, whose wife works full time and whose two children attend public schools, said a strike has been on their minds.

"My wife is the main (CPS) parent I've been hearing from," Brookins said. "I don't know what we do if there's a strike."

Mercy Solis picked up her 9-year-old son at Columbia Explorers Academy on the Southwest Side and said, "Both sides need to work this out because it's not fair to kids."

Her son, a fourth-grader, said his friends often talk about what they'll do if the teachers walk out.

"A lot of my friends will be pretty happy, but I'll be disappointed if the school shuts down," Richard Solis said. "All of my friends are here."

Tribune reporters Hal Dardick and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah contributed.


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