With the school year barely underway, public schoolteachers in Chicago will strike today after discussions to reach an agreement between the union and school system broke down last night. Negotiations had been heated for months over issues such as teacher evaluations, wages, and job security. This is a devastating blow to the third largest school district in the nation, and families are panicking, rearranging their schedules and finding alternatives to keep children supervised in the event of a shutdown. 

Chicago Public School officials, including president of the Board of Education David J. Vitale, are understandably afraid at the effect the strike could have on the roughly 350,000 students. "We do not want a strike," Vitale said yesterday afternoon, and referred to negotiations as "the most unbelievable process that I’ve ever been through."

On the other hand, union leaders say they had few options. Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teacher's Union, referred to the decision to strike as "difficult," and something the union wished they could have avoided. However, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who made public education a top issue when he took office last year, dismissed the move as a "strike of choice."

Emanuel told reporters that the union had been presented with a stronger offer, including a reported 16 percent wage increase over a four year period. He also asserted that only two issues, which were described as minor, remained. Anticipating a strike, the school system took the necessary precautions to accommodate it, proposing a program to open 144 of its 675 schools for half-days of activities overseen by non-unionized teachers, complete with meals for students.

Lewis called this plan a "mess," as it would only serve 150,000 students. Is it really feasible that parents would leave their children with people other than unionized teachers for half-days for however long it takes to resolve this? Parents seem optimistic about the potential improvement of schools sanctioned by Emanuel, but feel that teachers were pushed well past their limits. 

Still, with the city's first public school strike in 25 years underway, they're probably more concerned about where their children will be spending the day for the duration of the stoppage. Coming off a brutal summer where over 40 teenagers and young children were killed has to make parents that much more uncomfortable.

[via the New York Times]