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Chicago parents fret: What to do if teachers go on strike?

MariReyes holds her youngest sVictor while talking about effects possible teachers' strike after picking up her four other children (surrounding

Maria Reyes holds her youngest son Victor while talking about the effects of a possible teachers' strike, after picking up her four other children (surrounding Reyes) at Hammond Elementary School, 2819 W. 21st Pl., Wednesday, August 29, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:11PM

The specter of a teachers strike loomed over Chicago all summer.

Then came a breakthrough in Chicago Public Schools contract negotiations, in time for year-round schools to start Aug. 13. Another announcement came last week from union and school officials that the rest of the schools would start Tuesday as scheduled.

But Wednesday, parents of CPS students learned the Chicago Teachers Union had filed a 10-day strike notice, meaning teachers could walk the picket line as soon as Sept. 9.

That left moms and dads, already frustrated and bewildered, uncertain about what they would do with their children if the teachers went on strike.

“Catholic school?” one father said outside Charles G. Hammond Elementary School in Little Village.

“You don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Ariel Avina continued, while waiting with his wife and their two young children for their first-grader, Aaliyah, to be dismissed from classes for the day.

In the short term, Aaliyah would join her younger brother and sister with their stay-at-home mom. The shy little shake of her head up and down showed she would be happy with the extra days off.

Another parent, Maria Reyes, also stays home with her baby boy, so her four school-age children would be supervised if there were a strike. But she doesn’t want them to miss any classes. The teachers have worked well with her children, she said.

“I hope not, I really hope not,” she said of the prospects of teachers walking out. “I like this school.”

Her sixth-grader — also named Maria, “like my mom,” the girl said — is an “A” student who likes science and art and math.

A strike would be “kind of bad,” the 12-year-old said.

Many other parents who pick up children at 3 p.m. every day said they could keep their children at home if the schools were closed.

But Lynn Watkins of Bronzeville works during the day near O’Hare Airport. Her husband also has a full-time job. She thinks the teachers won’t strike and that the fiery union rhetoric will prove to be just part of negotiations.

But she has considered Chicago Park District programs or child care at the YMCA for her LaSalle Language Academy second-grader just in case.

As a contingency, the board of education has approved $25 million to feed and shelter children if teachers walked out. However, no specifics on where that would be or what hours would be covered have been publicized.

“It’d be helpful if the contingency process was publicly unveiled,” Watkins said. “It’s going to be a madhouse scramble.”

Parents on the Far Southwest Side already are networking to make sure everyone’s children will be cared for. Between the stay-at-home parents and the police and firefighters who are often home during the day, parents hope enough homes will be open to neighborhood children.

Lisa Kulisek’s 4-year-old has been in preschool at John M. Smyth Elementary School in University Village since August ­— when Kulisek thought the worst of the negotiations was over.

“I, as a part-time working mom, hate the idea of a strike because it does disrupt everything we spend so much time planning,” she said. “It interrupts the learning.”

Kulisek counts herself among the lucky. She has child care lined up for her baby son and will add her daughter. If she has to, she may take time off work.

But for now, she’s stuck in limbo with other parents.

“One day’s notice is enough for a hard-bargaining process,” she said, “but it’s not enough to find a baby-sitter.”

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