- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) — Rose Davis wasn’t about to let her two young grandchildren walk alone through one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods, even though they were going to a school kept open for students who needed a safe haven while teachers walked the picket line.

So Davis, who has a painful diabetic condition that affects nerves in her legs, walked with them Monday the six blocks to Benjamin E. Mays Elementary Academy in Englewood — about five blocks farther than the school they normally attend — where they ate breakfast and lunch, read books, worked on computers and played games. She went back four hours later to escort them home.

“They had to go out of their home zone, and you never know what gang violence is going on on the other side of the zone,” said Davis, 47, who said she will continue making the difficult trek until teachers return to the classroom.

But Davis and other parents and caregivers who scrambled Monday to figure out what to do with more than 350,000 idle children must do it all again Tuesday — and perhaps longer — after the teachers union and district failed to reach a settlement to end the first strike in the city’s schools in a quarter century. On Monday, only about 18,000 students showed up at schools and other venues where authorities organized activities and provided meals for those in need. That means the vast majority of parents had to make alternative arrangements or leave their children unsupervised through the day.

Chicago School Board President David Vitale said he thought an agreement could be reached on Tuesday. But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis sounded less optimistic, saying the district has not changed its offers on the two most contentious issues, performance evaluations and recall rights for laid-off teachers.

The walkout — less than a week after most schools opened for fall — has created an unwelcome political distraction for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In a year when labor unions have been losing ground nationwide, the implications were sure to extend far beyond Chicago, particularly for districts engaged in similar debates.

“This is a long-term battle that everyone’s going to watch,” said Eric Hanuskek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. “Other teachers unions in the United States are wondering if they should follow suit.”

The union had vowed to strike Monday if there was no agreement on a new contract, even though the district offered a 16 percent raise over four years and the two sides had essentially agreed on a longer school day. With an average annual salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. But some teachers said raises were less important to them than other issues.

Parents and caregivers said they were upset that the two sides can’t seem to agree.

“I don’t see a (reason) for a fight,” Davis said. “They could have come to decision before kids even started school because my grandkids love going to school, they don’t want to be out.”

About 11,000 students showed up Monday at the 144 schools kept open by the district to offer breakfast, lunch and activities; another 7,000 attended activities at other sites, including churches, park district buildings and libraries.

April Logan walked her 5-year-old daughter, Ashanti, to Mays Elementary but turned back once she realized she didn’t know which adults would be watching her child. She said that the kindergartner just started school last week.

“I don’t understand this. My baby just got into school,” she said.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he took officers off desk duty and deployed them to deal with any protests as well as the scores of students who might be roaming the streets, but police said there were no incidents on Monday.

Renee Conley, whose husband dropped off their two elementary-age children and a granddaughter at Mays Elementary — where some picketers yelled “don’t go in!” — said she doesn’t blame the teachers and thinks Emanuel should give them what they want “because he’s not in the classroom with those kids.”

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