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Judge declines to expedite hearing in Chicago teacher strike

As the Chicago teachers strike entered its second week, disappointment is starting to grow. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

Updated at 7:09 p.m. ET: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's effort to use the courts to end a strike by thousands of public school teachers stalled on Monday as the contentious walkout moved into a second week.

During a short meeting, Judge Peter Flynn of Cook County Circuit Court postponed until Wednesday a request to hold an immediate  hearing on an injunction to stop the strike, city law department spokesman Roderick Drew said. 

Striking teachers are due to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to end the strike after delaying a decision on Sunday. Picketing at dozens of schools by teachers continued on Monday but was thinned by the Rosh Hashanah holiday.


Scott Olson / Getty Images

Striking Chicago public school teachers picket outside of the Jose De Diego Community Academy on Sept. 17, 2012.

The Chicago Public Schools filed a complaint in circuit court against the Chicago Teachers Union seeking a preliminary injunction "to end the strike immediately." It cited two reasons: danger to "public health and safety" of the students and alleged violation of Illinois state law that prohibits strikes except for wages and benefits.

"State law expressly prohibits the CTU from striking over non-economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year," the school district said in a statement. "The CTU's repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking."

Deepening rift
Emanuel's move took the dispute into uncharted territory as no injunction request has been filed in an Illinois education labor dispute since 1984, when the state gave Chicago teachers the right to strike. It also deepens the rift between the Democratic mayor, a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama's campaign, and organized labor, which generally backs Democratic candidates.

John Gress

Chicago Teachers Union members leave a House of Delegates meeting on the seventh day of their strike in Chicago, September 16, 2012.

The dispute between Emanuel, a former top White House aide to Obama, and the union had been close to resolution on Sunday when the union bargaining team recommended to a meeting of union activists that the five-day strike be suspended.

But a majority of the 800 or so union delegates, wary of promises made by Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools, ignored the leadership and extended the strike until at least Tuesday.

The famously short-tempered Emanuel immediately issued a statement saying he would go to court to try to have the strike declared illegal.

"We are done negotiating," Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said on Monday.

View NBCChicago.com for more coverage on the Chicago strike

Only a fraction of the 350,000 elementary, middle school and high school students affected by the strike have been using 147 schools manned by principals and non-union staff who have provided meals and activities for part of the school day.

About 80 percent of Chicago public school students qualify for free meals due to low family incomes. Churches, community centers and park facilities have also tried to provide help for parents.

For some Chicago parents, patience was wearing thin.

"I'm very frustrated that it's taken this long," said Renee Edwards, a mother whose son attends Ray Elementary School on Chicago's south side. "Parents were not told until 10 p.m. last night what the outcome would be, so it's just frustrating."

City council members also have been getting an earful from constituents.

"They feel that the negotiations have been taken to a personal level instead of negotiating on the best interests of our kids in the school," said Ray Suarez, a Chicago alderman.

“Parents are very concerned," said Walter Burnett Jr., another alderman. "There's a lot of concern about their kids. A lot of parents are leaving their kids at home."

'Not happy'
Delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union told their bargaining team Sunday that they want to meet with the schools they represent before making a decision about whether to end their strike.

"They’re not happy with the agreement and would like it to be a lot better for us than it is," Union President Karen Lewis said in a news briefing Sunday evening, adding that they are returning to their schools with the proposal because they do not want to feel rushed to make a decision.

A union bargaining team and city officials had worked out a proposed contract that would move away from merit pay and allow teachers to appeal their evaluations. 

A faction of the union sees it as a "backroom deal" that does not have unified support. A source close to the union told NBC Chicago that Lewis' caucus shouted obscenities at her and other leaders late Saturday night, saying, "You sold out" and, "Rahm's getting everything they wanted, what the hell did we get?"    

At the heart of those who oppose this new deal are those who feel the negotiating team did not fight for paraprofessionals and special education teachers and students.

Some delegates shouted at Lewis there was "no way to vote on something we haven't seen."

Read full coverage at NBCChicago.com

Teachers revolted last week against sweeping education reforms sought by Emanuel, especially evaluating teachers based on the standardized test scores of their students. They also fear a wave of neighborhood school closings that could result in mass teacher layoffs. They want a guarantee that laid-off teachers will be recalled for other jobs in the district.

The contract includes what Lewis called victories for the 29,000 union members, which she outlined on the union’s website:  

As the Chicago teachers strike enters its second week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to get students back into schools by heading to court. City lawyers are seeking an injunction to force teachers back into the classroom as soon as possible.

PAY: The teachers union wants a three-year contract that guarantees a 3-percent increase the first year and 2-percent increases for the second and third years. The contract also includes the possibility of being extended a fourth year with a 3-percent raise. A first-year teacher earns about $49,000, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality; the highest-paid teacher earns $92,227.

Chicago Public Schools would move away from merit pay for individual teachers.

EVALUATION: Teachers would be evaluated 70 percent in terms of how they teach (“teacher practice”) and 30 percent in terms of how their students improve (“student growth”). Evaluations will not affect tenured teachers during the first year, and teachers may appeal their evaluation.  

HIRES: Responding to parent demands, Chicago Public Schools would hire more than 600 teachers specialized in art, music, physical education and foreign languages, among other teacher specialties. More than half of large school districts rehire laid-off teachers,according to The New York Times; the Chicago school board has pushed to leave control to principals.

Those new hires will allow for the longer class day -- which will be seven hours for elementary school students, up from five hours and 45 minutes. Chicago had been known for one of the shortest school days in the country -- a point that became a sticking point for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Of those new hires, half must be union employees who were previously laid off. (Higher-rated teachers would have a better chance at being rehired, the Chicago Tribune reported.)

BULLYING: The contract demands ending bullying by principals and managerial personnel to “curtail some of the abusive practices that have run rampant in many neighborhood schools.” Principals, however, will continue to exercise power over hiring teachers, the Tribune reported.

In one instance, according to CBS Chicago, dozens of complaints were made about a principal at Josiah Pickard Elementary School during his five years on the job. A union representative told CBS Chicago that the volume of complaints was not normal for a principal.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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