The recent Chicago Teachers Union strike, which ended Tuesday, shut down the nation’s third-largest school district just days after some 402,000 students had returned from summer break. It took seven days for the union and governor to reach agreement. So where did thousands of kids spend those days, and who was responsible for getting them there and back?
Chicago Public Schools spokesperson Robyn Ziegler told School Transportation News the strike did not affect the district’s charter schools or the 50,000 students who attend them, but approximately 350,000 other students were displaced. This left working parents scrambling to find a place for their kids to go during the day — as well as a way to get them there and back home.
“During the strike, we continued to provide transportation to students who attend charter schools and other non-CPS schools that we normally transport,” said Ziegler.
Ammon Transportation Services was one school bus company that kept providing service during the strike, as it has for the past 10 years. Co-owner Priscilla Ammon told STN that they rotated their 45 drivers on the charter routes in the interest of fairness. Still, many of their drivers remained off work and without pay for some of the seven days, unlike the mechanics and office staff.
“They were frustrated, but what could you do? That was the way I felt, too,” Ammon said. “After the strike, the workers came in the very next day.”
In the interim, Ziegler said the district kept nearly 150 schools open for thousands of students who could not attend school from Sept. 10–18.
“The Children First sites did not provide any school functions or instructional opportunities but were sites where parents could bring children during the day,” she said, adding that about 85 percent of CPS students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. “It was very important to have a safety net where we could provide two meals a day and a safe environment for kids. This was an option available to parents for their children if they needed it.”
Ziegler clarified that CPS did not have any of its vendors transport students to those sites. Rather, the Chicago Transit Authority offered free student transportation to and from those campuses. The district did remain responsible, however, for transporting students with disabilities who receive transportation pursuant to their Individualized Education Program, or IEP.
“Even though we didn’t provide transportation to those sites, we did offer those (special education) students who are eligible for transportation and parents who ride with their children paid cards from the CTA,” she added.
She noted that the school district worked with sister agencies, local libraries and park districts to provide other campuses and services to students. In all, nearly 32,000 students attended programs at 450 locations, including 147 CPS Children First school sites, 84 Chicago Park District camp programs, 59 Safe Haven sites and 78 Chicago Public Libraries locations.
“These sites were staffed by non-CTU members of CPS, so the principals, assistant principals and administrators from our central office all helped, and volunteers as well,” Ziegler said.