Dozens Of Sites Provide Care For Chicago Students

With the Chicago Teachers Union on strike, the Chicago Public Schools opened more than 140 sites Monday to help provide child care for students affected by the strike. Renee Montagne speaks with Lorraine Forte, editor-in-chief of Catalyst Chicago, a nonprofit watchdog covering education in the city. She visited a couple of schools on Monday that are providing child care, and also went to an alternate site at a local community center.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Chicago is the third-largest school district in the country; nearly 400,000 students are affected by this walk-out. Chicago Public Schools have set up more than 140 locations being dubbed Children First. These are places where parents can drop off kids to be cared for, since classes are not in session. Dozens of other agencies and organizations in the city are providing safe havens as well, from the park district to area churches.

To hear how all of this is going, we've reached Lorraine Forte. She's editor-in-chief of Catalyst Chicago, an independent non-profit publication covering education in the city. Welcome to the program.

LORRAINE FORTE: Thank you very much for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now, I gather you visited a couple of schools with these child care centers yesterday. What did you see?

FORTE: Well, you know, at the schools I went to, there was certainly not nearly the number of children there who, you know, you might expect given the enrollment at the school. At one school I went to, there was maybe a couple of dozen children. At another school maybe about the same. And the issue with these centers that are being called Children First, that they're just the regular public schools the district has kept open, the issue with them is that they're only open till 12:30.

FORTE: So if you're a working parent and you're used to your child being in school now with the longer day, 3:00 or 3:30, what are you going to do with your child after that? It's not really to your benefit to take them somewhere and then, you know, they've got to be picked up in three, four hours.

MONTAGNE: Well, if they're not there, were you able to figure out how or where a lot of these kids are spending the day?

FORTE: I would assume they're either at home - there are also some alternative sites that the union and people who support the union have set up, and I went to one of those. There were maybe about 30, 35 kids there. So I'm assuming a lot of elementary school kids maybe have just gone to a babysitter, maybe gone to a relative's house, and of course if you're a high school-aged kid, you know, you're old enough to stay home on your own.

So I'm assuming that's where a lot of them are. They may be at churches. There are a lot of churches. I haven't been to any, but there are churches that have programs, and those, you know, are going to be all day or were supposed to be all day.

MONTAGNE: You know, how ready were parents for this strike? I mean, there's so much talk about it that when you get right down to it, people with jobs - it's not that easy to do a quick swap as to where their kids are going to be. Even teenagers who - you know, some of them may be quite vulnerable, the young teenagers.

FORTE: Well, yeah. I mean, there's been so much talk of a strike that, you know, people pretty much were thinking it was going to happen, although, you know, one of the things that the union said was - and that some of the clergy have said was that, you know, they felt the district didn't do a good job planning for the contingency. But yeah, I mean if you're a parent, you do have to scramble at the last minute and figure out am I going to take them to a, you know, a park district program, a church, or one of the schools? But there were some other options, but yeah, that's an issue.

MONTAGNE: I mean you kind of wonder, though, are the parents upset that you've talked to? I mean do you have any sense what the reaction is? Are people angry? Do they - are they angry at the mayor, are they angry at the teachers union, what?

FORTE: You know, the thing is, there aren't - I don't know the - obviously I don't know the exact percentage. The parents I talked to are supportive of the teachers because they see the teachers not so much fighting for more money. That's not the big issue at this point. It's not the major issue. It's the other things like resources in the classroom and conditions in the classroom, and they - that affects their kids. But the longer the strike goes on, you know, I think that there is a risk that parents start blaming the teachers as opposed to being, you know, in solidarity with them.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

FORTE: Oh, and thank you very much for having me.

MONTAGNE: Lorraine Forte is editor-in-chief of the publication Catalyst Chicago.

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