Chicago Teachers Strike Ends After Eleven Days, Bringing 300,000 Students Back to School

Teachers in Chicago—the nation’s third-largest school district—reached a contract deal on Thursday, ending their eleven day strike, that left over 300,000 students out of classes for the duration.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations led to the city’s first major teacher walkout since 2012, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that a deal had been reached with the Chicago Teachers Union. The 25,000 members of the union went on strike Oct. 17, holding marches and rallies across the city.

The deal includes a 16% pay raise for teachers, $35-million to reduce class sizes, and a social worker and nurse in each school every day, reported WGNTV.

“Welcome back to school, CPS students!” tweeted the first-term mayor, who campaigned on improving the city’s schools but said the school district could not afford the increases in spending on counselors and nurses.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Lightfoot greeted returning school students in the Lawndale neighborhood.

“I’m glad you’re back in school,” she said. “I’m sure you missed your teacher, and I’m sure she missed you.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference at City Hall to discuss the Chicago Teachers Union strike that has kept students out of school for 11 days in Chicago, Ill., on Oct. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Chicago Public Schools kept schools open throughout the strike, promising parents that their kids would have a safe place to go and receive meals. City parks, libraries and community groups also opened their doors to kids whose parents were uncomfortable using schools being picketed by educators.

Parents across the city were relieved when the strike finally ended.

“It is over finally, thank God,” said Dominique Dukes, the mother of two children, ages 7 and 14. “They did miss out on their education. It was the worst experience ever. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”

The 33-year-old mother said she printed off grade school worksheets at the library to keep her children occupied. Dukes, who works early mornings at a warehouse, took turns with her boyfriend watching the children.

Teachers—aiming to increase resources, including nurses and social workers for students, while reducing class sizes—claim the strike was based on a “social justice” agenda.

According to Union leaders, the strike also forced the city to negotiate on issues previously deemed out of bounds, including support for students who are homeless.

Mayor Lightfoot—following a private meeting with Chicago Teachers Union President, Jesse Sharkey, at city hall on Thursday—eventually emerged from her office to announce that an agreement had been reached, and the strike would end.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and vice-president Stacy Davis Gates share a hug
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and vice-president Stacy Davis Gates share a hug after speaking to the media following a CTU House of Delegates meeting at the Chicago Teachers Union Center in Chicago, Ill., Oct. 30, 2019, . (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune via AP)

Sharkey, who wasn’t present when the official announcement was made by Lightfoot, told reporters that union members “don’t need to see me smiling with the mayor.”

“What they need to see is that we have a tentative agreement and we now have a return to work agreement,” he said. “I’m glad that people get to return to work. Frankly, it’s been hard on teachers to be out this long and it’s been hard on parents to be out this long. It’s been hard on our students.”

Lightfoot, in response to questions about possible ripple effects the strike could impose on the city, said she was focused on repairing “damage” to students and families.

“Nobody wins in a circumstance like this,” she said.

AP and Reuters contributed to this report.