Chicago Sun-Times



The strike sweats are sweeping Chicago, a citywide epidemic characteri­zed by stressed-out parents and confused children who don’t know when a cure is coming.

Less than a week after the bulk of Chicago Public Schools students and parents started their back-toschool routines, from early morning wake-up to late-night homework supervisio­n, it all came to a screeching halt when teachers hit the picket lines Monday.

Regardless of their feelings about the strike, parents and guardians franticall­y sought last-minute child care, pleaded with their bosses for leniency and hoped that their kids would return to school sooner rather than later.

In some cases, students and parents arrived at schools, unaware classes were canceled Monday. At other schools, parents were highly mobilized, developing baby-sitting co-ops and publicizin­g alternativ­es to the CPS-sponsored Children First strike contingenc­y plan.

Citywide for thousands of families, stress was high and consequenc­es were real in a situation with an abrupt, late-night beginning and an unknown ending.

“I might be losing my job over this,” said Martina Watts, 38, as she dropped her kids off at Hefferan Elementary in Garfield Park. “As long as they’re on strike, I can’t work. I’m not getting paid, either.”

Watts said the strike forced her to stay away from her temporary job as a machinist so that she could pick up her daughter, Trinity, and son, Jayvon, when the school closes early at 12:30 p.m.

More than six miles north, at Reinberg Elementary in Portage Park, Jasmine Rivera waited for three of her five children to exit the morning W. Marquette, with her 6-year-old daughter as the half-day program was ending.

“I didn’t even know they were going to have these programs until today, so I didn’t sign her up over the weekend like they said to do,” said Jones, a stay-at-home mom. “There’s no way I can have her at home all day. I don’t even know how long this strike’s going to last. If they’re full, I’m going to have to find something for her, anything, because there’s no way I can keep this little girl busy enough.” contingenc­y school.

“Why would you start them and go on strike when you’ve been [negotiatin­g] since November?” Rivera said.

Rivera said her youngest, twins in kindergart­en, woke up at 6 a.m. every day last week excited to go to school. She didn’t want to stop that momentum and sent them to Reinberg though they normally attend Falconer Elementary.

“I don’t want to break the routine,” she said.

Not like 1987

In 2000, families with two working parents became the majority in the United States, placing this group of CPS parents in a potentiall­y more challengin­g situation than those that navigated the last CPS strike, in 1987. The ongoing economic downturn has also placed more pressure on working, middleclas­s parents.

At Mount Greenwood School at 108th and Homan, several grandmothe­rs came to retrieve the children at the contingenc­y program, saying their daughters or sons couldn’t leave their jobs to do so. Pickup time for the schools in the program was 12:30 p.m.

Mom Janell Midderhoff raced from her job at Victoria’s Secret on Michigan Avenue to Mount Greenwood to get her two sons at the temporary day-care program.

“I had to leave work early to make sure I get them by the 12:30 mark,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t go on for more than today. I can’t keep leaving work to get them.”

Michelle Herrera was planning on spending Monday looking for a job but instead tried to homeschool her three grandchild­ren, all students at Mary Lyon School near Austin and Wellington.

One of her grandsons wasn’t interested in reading at home, so she told them to put their school uniforms on and called 311 to find out if there was a contingenc­y school nearby. They arrived at Reinberg late and were told to return tomorrow.

“I can’t do this until the strike is over,” she said. “I respect teachers, but this is hard for me.”

Patricia Jones, 32, arrived at Mays Elementary Academy, 838

The YMCA of Metropolit­an Chicago opened strike camps in 10 of its centers. None were full Monday, but spokeswoma­n Sherrie Medina thinks they may be completely booked by Wednesday.

“We anticipate­d that today the parents would kind of make it a snow day, stay home and wait and see,” she said on Monday. “If it looks like things are going to continue, we think the need will increase as the week goes along. People can’t just stay at home and take a vacation day or sick day.”

While the YMCA is one of the city’s more affordable strike options, the extra expense wasn’t welcome by working parents.

“It’s not ideal,” said Kim Manning, a public relations director and mother of a 7-year-old and 4-yearold at CPS schools. “I would rather not have to spend this extra money, but it’s what we have to do to make it work.”

Manning spent $45 for her older son to attend the YMCA camp and paid the mom of a fellow pre-K student $12 an hour to baby-sit her youngest.

‘At least 200 phone calls’

About 65 kids were at Sweet Holy Spirit Church in the South Shore neighborho­od on Monday, part of

 ??  ?? Martina Watts, a parent at Hefferan Elementary, said the strike may cause her to lose her job. | JOHN H. WHITE~SUN-TIMES
‘Make it a snow day’
Martina Watts, a parent at Hefferan Elementary, said the strike may cause her to lose her job. | JOHN H. WHITE~SUN-TIMES ‘Make it a snow day’
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