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Judge punts on forcing teachers back; union delegates to decide on Wednesday return

Updated: October 19, 2012 6:09AM

Chicago Public School students could be back in school Wednesday before a Cook County judge hears the city make its case that the teachers strike is illegal.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates is meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday when it will decide to call teachers back to work or leave them out on picket lines.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis acknowledged in an interview Tuesday morning that the delegates could still reject the tentative agreement.

“If that’s what our members decide, that’s what our members decide,” Lewis told WGN-TV.

The delegates’ powwow comes just in time for parents, who were pulling their hair out on Monday, when they had thought their children would be back in school.

“I’ll give them til Wednesday, but if they don’t go back Wednesday they better have a damn good reason,” said Jeanne Marie Olson, mother of a first-grader at Peterson Elementary School.

All weekend, Olson thought the union was pointing to a Monday return. Then the CTU asked for two days ­—during Rosh Hashana­ — to review the new deal presented to them late Sunday.

“I relate to that,” Olson said. “I would never want to sign a contract I didn’t fully understand. I do believe a lot of things at least the teachers I know want the things I want for my kids.”

Wednesday is the soonest students may return, and that’s only if the House of Delegates votes to end the strike — Chicago’s first since 1987 — Tuesday and approve the tentative deal.

On Monday morning, Cook County Judge Peter Flynn set a hearing for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to hear CPS’ request for a temporary restraining order against the teachers union, according to a city law department spokesman.

Flynn told reporters in a brief interview after court that CPS likely wanted to talk with “the other side,” because the union did not have an attorney in the courtroom Monday morning.

The lawsuit to end the strike ratcheted up tensions as the Chicago Teachers Union blasted the act as apparently a “vindictive act.”

“This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school education,” a CTU statement read. “If this was an illegal strike, the Chicago Public Schools would have sought injunctive relief on Day One.”

According to its lawsuit filed Monday morning, the district asked the judge to end the strike because it’s “illegal” and it presents a “clear and present danger to public health and safety.”

In addition to its claim that “hundreds of thousands” children in lower-income families are “going hungry” during the strike, the Board of Education argued for the first time that CPS is facing “massive food spoilage” and the loss of roughly $1.25 million a day in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s because USDA regulations require that CPS “serve the meals in school,” the petition states.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel accused the union Sunday of using children as “pawns’’. That came about an hour after Lewis said “a clear majority” of delegates refused to suspend the strike until they had seen the exact contract language of the entire deal — something not expected until Tuesday.

Delegates just didn’t trust Chicago Public Schools not to try to slip one over on them if they nixed the strike without more study and discussion of the offer, Lewis said.

At noon Monday, an angry, pro-union group composed of community and labor leaders, parents, students and academics — with striking teachers and social workers mixed in — staged a noisy demonstration outside Emanuel’s office.

They denounced Emanuel for asking a judge to order teachers back to work before they had exercised their legitimate right to read the fine print.

Sarah Johnson, a senior at Roosevelt High School, held up a piece of paper with the handwritten words, “Full Proposal,” then ripped it in half to signify the summary distributed to the CTU’s House of Delegates.

“They only got half of this to read. Is that right?” Johnson said, as the crowd shouted, “No!”

“I’m only 17 years old and I know that I will not sign a contract that I have not fully read yet or I have not even fully received,” Johnson said.

Emanuel was not at work Monday. He is observing the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, which ends at sundown Tuesday.

Across the Chicago River, in front of the Merchandise Mart, which houses the CTU’s offices, an impromptu group of parents shouted, “Back to school!”

Steve Timble said he threw together the protest because parents didn’t have a voice in what contract process.

Paying to print signs reading, “350,000 CPS hostages! Let our children learn” and “If you care about the kids, go back to work” was “cheaper than therapy,” he said.

“We feel that this process has been run to benefit the adults in the system and not to benefit the children in the system, and we’re here to send the message that the kids need to be in school while they work out the details,” Timble said.

But parents are divided over who’s to blame.

Rhoda Rae Gutierrez’s mounting frustration sits with CPS.

“If anybody knows CPS, this is how they function. They don’t plan, and they leave things to the last minute. My frustration is entirely with CPS and our mayor,” said Gutierrez, of Parents 4 Teachers. “I have to say it’s in CPS’ court right now to make sure that this ends. And they can do this by making sure this contract is fair.”

But Nicole Bricker, whose two sons attend Disney Magnet and Hamilton Elementary schools, is fed up with the union — and out of ideas for her boys.

“We are tired of being together. So we spent the day at home, pretty much on each other’s throats,” Bricker said. “I don’t agree with keeping kids out of school while negotiating an adult issue. One week, OK. Two weeks?

“I mean what is so bad in the world that we have to keep kids from school?”

Contributing: Bailey Dick

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