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Churches Care for Chicago Students During Strike
Michelle Martin
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, September 15, 2012
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Chicago Teachers Union members picket Sept. 13. The strike has affected some 350,000 students.
CHICAGO (CNS) — Catholic schools in the city of Chicago remained in session the week of Sept. 10 as more than 350,000 Chicago Public School students found themselves at loose ends when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago provided meals to some of the students who attended supervised child care organized in public schools, churches, parks and other facilities.

The agency, which also provides summer meals as part of the federal school lunch program, was ready to provide up to 6,000 breakfasts and lunches each day. However, attendance at the "safe haven" programs was sparse, as most parents seemed to be keeping their children home.

Many parishes that normally offer youth programming continued to do so. The after-school program at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the city's Back of the Yards neighborhood continued to open at 3 p.m. each day, providing activities for at least part of the day; and "The Ark of Sabina," a community youth center located on the campus of St. Sabina Church, opened its doors earlier than usual each day.

On Sept. 13, about 16 students took advantage of the facility, playing basketball or volleyball and board games when they would have otherwise been in school, said program coordinator Courtney Holmon. Most days, there were about 13 young people there during what would be the normal school day.

The Ark's regular after-school programming still took place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., with everything from tutoring to karate and dance classes offered in addition to sports.

While some public school parents interviewed by local media speculated about the possibility of enrolling their children in Catholic schools, especially if the strike dragged on into multiple weeks, the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools did not report any spikes in enrollment.

The office pointed out that Catholic schools would not want to admit students and commit to providing resources for them if their parents were planning on taking them back to public schools once the strike ended.

Dominican Sister M. Paul McCaughey, the Catholic school superintendent, told Crain's Chicago Business that Catholic schools wanted neither to take advantage of the strike nor to be taken advantage of.

Catholic schools in the city have seen slight gains in enrollment in the past three years.

The Chicago Tribune daily newspaper reported midday Sept. 14 that city officials and union leaders were close to a deal, leaving some hopeful the union's House of Delegates would vote to end the strike and school could resume Sept. 17. The union's 25,000 members could then vote on an agreement over the next two weeks.

At issue are the union's call for a 16 percent raise for teachers over the next four years, concerns about teacher evaluations and a way to rehire teachers who have lost their jobs because of school consolidations and closings.

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Martin is a staff writer at the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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