- Associated Press - Monday, September 17, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked a state court Monday to force Chicago schoolteachers back to work and end a weeklong strike he calls illegal.

The union immediately condemned the move as an act of vindictiveness by a “bullying” mayor.

Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said city attorneys asked the Cook County Circuit Court to force Chicago Teachers Union members off the picket line and back into classrooms.

The request argues that the strike is illegal because state law bars the union from striking on anything but economic issues and that the work stoppage is focused instead on such issues as evaluations, layoffs and recall rights.

The 700-page filing also contends the strike presents a danger to public health and safety, partly because more than 80 percent of 350,000 public students rely on school meals for their basic nutrition; it says 50,000 others, including autistic students, depend on special instruction. And out of school, children more prone to fall victim to violence, it says.

“At a critical time in their lives, a vulnerable population has been cast adrift by the CTU’s decision to close down the schools, with consequent grave implications for the residents of the city of Chicago,” the court document says.

The union blasted the city’s decision to resort to legal action.

In a statement released later Monday, the CTU said the filing appeared to be “a vindictive act.”

“This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school educators,” the union said in the statement.

A spokesman for the city’s law office, Roderick Drew, said the judge wasn’t expected to rule on the filing Monday, nor have arguments been scheduled. He didn’t expect a ruling until later in the week.

“Nothing will be set today,” he said. “Beyond that, we don’t know.”

The union and school leaders seemed headed toward a resolution at the end of last week, saying they were optimistic that students in the nation’s third-largest school district would be back in class by Monday. But teachers uncomfortable with a tentative contract offer decided Sunday to remain on strike, saying they needed more time to review a complicated proposal.

Mr. Emanuel fired back, saying he told city attorneys to seek a court order forcing Chicago Teachers Union members back into the classroom.

Teachers on the picket line at Mark T. Skinner West Elementary School on Chicago’s near West Side declined to comment before the lawsuit was filed Monday as the possibility of legal action loomed over them.

The strike is the first for the city’s teachers in 25 years and has kept students out of class, leaving parents to make other plans.

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