Chicago teachers vote on strike-suspending contract

October 2, 2012 ( CHICAGO)

The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates suspended a strike after a tentative agreement was reached. The rank-and-file is now voting.

The voting began early Tuesday morning, before school started, and continued throughout the day. Voting will also take place on Wednesday. Official results are expected Thursday.

"I'm so relieved. When you look at kids' faces, you know absolutely without a doubt that the only thing that matters is kids. We're just happy, all of us," said Cheryl Watkins, Pershing West Middle School.

CTU President Karen Lewis refused to make any predictions as to how the vote will go.

"I'm a person who believes that what will happen will happen," said Lewis before Tuesday's vote. "It will come. We'll know. I don't make predictions."

Twenty nine thousand Chicago Teachers Union members will decide whether to accept a contract agreement with the district.

CTU President Lewis cast her vote at Dyett High School on the city's South Side.

"Twenty years ago, would this have been a great contract? Probably not," Lewis said. "Twenty years hence, would that be a great contract? Probably not. At this moment in time? Absolutely."

It is widely expected the contract will be approved, formally ending the strike that kept CPS students out of class for seven days last month.

But despite the agreement, serious issues remain that were not open to negotiation. Among them: the potential closure of up to 100 under-utilized schools, like Dyett, where the less than 200 remaining students are restricted to only one part of the building and have seen many of their programs cut.

Dyett's Local School Council has filed a civil rights complaint with the Justice Department on behalf of the students.

"These young people are being squeezed out because they are not valued," said Local School Council's Jitu Brown. "If they were valued, the policies would reflect that, and that's the bottom line."

"There is always an excuse, there is always a rationale for second class treatment and the fact is teacher or the principal didn't remove the programs out of this school. Chicago Public Schools did," Brown continued.

But, while the issue regarding school closures and turnarounds is not going away, educators are glad to at least be back in school.

At Hyde Park's Kenwood Academy, Principal Gregory Jones praised teachers for the work they've done since returning to the classroom.

"Our faculty has returned at a high energy level," Jones said. "They've been extremely professional, very engaging."

It is expected that the votes will be tallied during the day Wednesday and will be announced by Thursday at the latest.

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