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Chicago teachers' strike grinds into third day

Associated Press Modified: September 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm •  Published: September 12, 2012
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The public exchanges between striking Chicago teachers and the school district grew more personal Wednesday as negotiators returned to the bargaining table on the walkout's third day.

A top district negotiator, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, criticized teachers union President Karen Lewis for using the word "silly" when describing the negotiations to a crowd of adoring teachers a day earlier.

"It is not silly that we spent over 10 hours yesterday attempting to bridge the gap," Byrd-Bennett said just before the talks resumed. "We take these negotiations incredibly serious."

The strike has canceled classes for more than 350,000 students.

Union officials continued to play down the chances of a quick resolution to the dispute, which centers on the district's proposed new teacher evaluation process and a policy on rehiring teachers that have been laid off. The district said it had presented the union with a new comprehensive proposal Tuesday and was demanding either a response in writing or a comprehensive counter-proposal.

"It's going to take time to work things out," Lewis said. "It's also going to take the will to make compromises. We have made quite a few. We would like to see more on their side."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, commenting on the strike after a City Council meeting, pushed again for a quick conclusion to the talks, saying the final issues could be resolved with the children back in school. Nevertheless, he said, district officials were arranging for children to receive more computer access at drop-off schools so they can spend time learning as the strike goes on.

On Tuesday, officials in the country's third-largest school district announced that, beginning Thursday, the 147 drop-off centers where students can get free breakfast and a morning of supervision will be open six hours a day rather than four.

As the teachers walk the picket lines, they have been joined by parents who are scrambling to find a place for children to pass the time or for baby sitters. Mothers and fathers — some with their kids in tow — are marching with the teachers. Other parents are honking their encouragement from cars or planting yard signs that announce their support in English and Spanish.

Unions are still hallowed organizations in much of Chicago, and the teachers union holds a special place of honor in many households where children often grow up to join the same police, firefighter or trade unions as their parents and grandparents.

"I'm going to stay strong, behind the teachers," said the Rev. Michael Grant, who joined educators on the picket line Tuesday. "My son says he's proud; 'You are supporting my teacher.'"

But one question looming over the contract talks is whether parents will continue to stand behind teachers if students are left idle for days or weeks. That ticking clock could instill a sense of urgency in the ongoing negotiations.

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