by Katherine Harbin
CHICAGO, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- Chicago teachers took to the streets again on Monday as a strike organized by the Chicago Teachers Union entered its second week, continuing to keep around 350,000 public school students out of the classroom.
The extension of the teachers' strike took many Chicagoans by surprise, as both the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public School (CPS) officials had told the public last Friday that a "tentative deal" had been reached. The union delegates had largely been expected to approve the newly negotiated contract at a meeting Sunday, but instead opted to delay that vote until Tuesday, citing a need for more time.
The CTU decision infuriated Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who ordered CPS to file a court injunction seeking to end the strike immediately, on the grounds that it was both illegal and a "clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public."
"State law expressly prohibits the CTU from striking over non- economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year, " the injunction request said, referring to the complaints most- voiced by the teachers.
The motion also stressed the damaging effects the strike could have on CPS students, 84 percent of whom come from low-income families that might not be able provide the same quality of meals offered at schools, or who live in neighborhoods with a high amount of crime.
"All of these students now face the all too real prospect of prolonged hunger, increased risk of violence, and disruption of critical special education services," the CPS injunction request continued.
However, Cook County Circuit Court judge Peter Flynn denied a Monday hearing for the CPS motion, saying instead that a hearing could possibly be scheduled for Wednesday. But Wednesday could potentially see the strike already settled, as the union votes Tuesday.
Without an injunction, the Chicago teachers' demonstrations continued.
Though classes go on as usual at the city's private and charter schools, hundreds of thousands of Chicago public school students are forced to spend their days outside the classroom, as working parents scramble to find alternative care for their children. While some schools offer half-day care programs and supervision, the majority of the CPS district's 675 schools remain closed until further notice.
Despite increasing public pressure for an end to the strike, the teachers union remained firm. In response to the injunction move sought by the city, CTU attacked Emanuel for both his policies and legal course of action.
"CPS' spur-of-the-moment decision to seek injunctive relief some six days later appears to be a vindictive act instigated by the mayor," CTU said in a statement. "This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel's bullying behavior toward public school educators."
Teachers have criticized Emanuel for recent changes made to the Chicago Public School system, and have negotiated with CPS since last November for a new agreement. Opponents say a new teacher evaluation system places too much emphasis on students' standardized test results, and teachers have also called for a new "fair" contract that takes into account benefits and pay increases.
The last time CPS faced a strike was in 1987, when it lasted 19 days. The Chicago Public School District employs around 26,000 teachers.