CHICAGO (AP) – Deadlines that affected Chicago students and striking teachers loomed over efforts this week to resolve a walkout that canceled classes for 11 days in the nation’s third-largest school district.
Parents across the city worried about time away from school slowing their kids’ progress. The effects on high school students, though, were more immediate.
Planned testing dates for the SAT and ACT were canceled. Seniors preparing for colleges’ Nov. 1 early application deadlines sought feedback elsewhere for their essays.
Athletes were barred from competing in playoffs due to the state athletic association’s rules, but several high school football teams should be able to play this weekend with the strike resolved.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union announced Thursday that they had resolved their last remaining differences for a tentative contract and that classes would resume Friday. But the resolution came after many anxious days and setbacks.
“I think about all those young people whose lives have been dramatically affected,” Lightfoot said after announcing the strike’s end. “I think about the seniors. This is going to be the primary memory of their high school experience and I want to … repair the damage that’s been done.”
For more than 25,000 members of the teachers union, they feared that the start of November could mean losing their health insurance through the school district – increasing the financial burden for educators already going without pay during the strike. Union leaders had said this week that their members will have to weigh the “risks and rewards” of continuing a strike.
Jesse Sharkey, the union’s president, said Wednesday night that the strike had forced the city to negotiate an agreement he believes “will make schools better” for years.
“Important things were accomplished during the last 10 days,” he said. “Things that would have never been accomplished if we hadn’t raised our collective voice.”
Without access to their teachers and counselors, some high school seniors turned to alumni of Chicago’s school district who lined up volunteers to read students’ essays. Others were already connected to nonprofit programs such as Bottom Line, which provides coaches to work with students from low-income homes and who would be the first in their family to attend college.
Their offices teemed with students hoping to apply to colleges early but worried about getting letters of recommendation and other documents in time, said executive director Chris Broughton.
“I definitely worry about the student who maybe was highly motivated in summer, early fall but was relying on an in-school program or a teacher to drive them,” Broughton said. “And without that person, they’re losing that motivation to complete the process.”
Sary Rios, a senior at George Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side, said she used the time out of classes to focus on college applications, with help from a Bottom Line coach.
Rios, 18, said she initially worried about getting letters of recommendation and completed fee waivers in time for early application deadlines, but that she has found colleges “very supportive and understanding” about the strike’s effects on her and her classmates.
“I understand the teachers are fighting for the future of other kids in Chicago Public Schools,” Rios said. “I don’t mind waiting for the letters.”
November deadlines for early admission aren’t arbitrary. Applying early can give students a better chance at being accepted to competitive schools and more access to financial help, said Christine Poorman, executive director of College Possible Chicago.
The nonprofit’s college coaches typically work in Chicago schools but have met with students at libraries during the strike to work on essays for college applications and finalize applications for financial aid, she said.
“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of concern for students,” she said.
Poorman said assistant principals at high schools around the city stepped in to help students get copies of their transcripts and other records that colleges require.
Principals at other schools emailed anxious students and parents with directions on how to request copies of transcripts sent to colleges on time and encourage them to contact colleges directly with concerns about letters of recommendation or other materials.
Some schools independently adjusted their deadlines for Chicago students or advised students to submit what they can and get other documents in when classes resume. At the University of Chicago, administrators extended the deadline to Nov. 10 for students affected by the strike.
Peter Wilson, the university’s director of admissions, said colleges keep tabs on major events that could affect students’ applications, including natural disasters, and are often open to helping.
“Take a deep breath,” Wilson said he would advise students. “It’s going to be OK, and it’s all going to work out in the end.”
The strike also canceled PSAT exams set for Wednesday for the district’s high school juniors, including Rena Robinson’s 16-year-old twins. The district has said juniors can take the SAT in April and use those scores for National Merit Scholarship consideration.
Robinson said she’s concerned that her daughter, Faith, and son, Foster, will be at a disadvantage without the practice opportunity of taking the PSAT. The twins attend a high school on the West Side.
“That’s going to affect them in the long run,” Robinson said. “They need all the learning they can because they have to compete with strong competitors out there. When is enough going to be enough?”
The strike already prevented city schools’ golf, cross-county and volleyball teams from participating in statewide playoffs. High school football teams’ hopes to compete in the first playoff round Saturday were preserved Wednesday when the district permitted them to hold practices.
Rules set by the Illinois High School Association require teams to hold at least three days of practices to be eligible for the playoff round.
This story has been corrected to show PSAT exams had been scheduled for Wednesday, not Tuesday.