Chicago teachers not in class as community leaders warn of impact on kids

Mayor and union at odds over whether teachers and students will be awarded makeup days

The Chicago Teachers Union appears to have one major sticking point that is keeping more than 300,000 students out of classrooms Thursday despite the union's delegates ratifying a tentative agreement late Wednesday night.

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The union called for all members to meet at City Hall Thursday to demand that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot agree to make up the school days missed because of the strike, which would allow teachers to essentially still be paid for going on strike.

Meanwhile, many Chicago community members are increasingly worried about the long-term impact of students missing 11 days of school and counting.  The strike extends beyond just classroom instruction, spilling into athletic schedules mandated for college scholarships and critical testing for college admissions. 

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"Where do they go? Are they out on the streets and what activities are they involved in? One of the big concerns for many of the low-income kids is meals — do they have enough to eat," Alex Wilson, owner of West Town Bikes, told FOX Business.

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Roughly 77% of Chicago public school students are economically disadvantaged, according to the school district.

Wilson owns the cycling shop but also operates after-school programs for middle and high school students, teaching them health and wellness, bike repair and even job training. He said the majority of the youth his program serves are low-income.

Kids participating in West Town Bikes' youth programming in Chicago pose with Alderman Ariel Reboyras (far right). Courtesy of West Town Bikes

Wilson said students have hung out in his shop during school hours since the strike started, but he doesn't have the resources to add more programming to keep them busy.

"We don't have capacity. ... We try to accommodate them the best we can," Wilson said.

Wilson said he supports the teachers union's goal of making Chicago public schools "a better place for students."

Lightfoot blasted union President Jesse Sharkey Wednesday night. She claimed he "moved the goalposts" by blindsiding her with the demand that teachers be compensated for strike days. Lightfoot said Sharkey didn't bring up the demand during a three-and-a-half-hour meeting they had ahead of the tentative agreement being reached.

"I've been clear from day one that [Chicago Public Schools] would not make up any strike days and at this late hour we are not adding any new issues. CPS has given [the union] a historic deal," Lightfoot told reporters on Wednesday night. "I'm not compensating them for days they were out on strike."

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The union blasted Lightfoot for "hypocrisy."

"She and her bargaining team fanatically insisted that elementary teachers couldn’t have a 30-minute morning prep because it would 'reduce instructional time.' Yet, now they have the opportunity to make up days of instruction. What reason, other than sheer vindictiveness, would they have for passing up this opportunity?" the union said in a statement early on Thursday morning.

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Teachers could risk losing health insurance coverage at the start of November. Union leaders said this week that their 25,000 members will have to weigh the "risks and rewards" of continuing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.