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Mixed Emotions, Some Confusion For Parents As Strike Begins

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Chicago Public Schools students attending a "Children First" program -- alternative activities for kids during the teachers' strike -- cross a picket line outside Walter Payton College Prep High School on Sept. 10, 2012. (Credit: CBS)

Chicago Public Schools students attending a “Children First” program — alternative activities for kids during the teachers’ strike — cross a picket line outside Walter Payton College Prep High School on Sept. 10, 2012. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 09/10/12 – 11:37 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Parents of public school students were feeling mixed emotions as they sent kids to half-day programs at scores of Chicago Public Schools sites on Monday during the teachers’ strike, while others were confused when they learned teachers had walked off the job.

WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, around 7:30 a.m., parents started showing up at Robert Healy Elementary School, at 3010 S. Parnell Av., for what they thought was to be a normal school day. Many of the parents are Chinese immigrants, and had a hard time understanding that the Chicago Teachers Union has gone on strike.

The parents were turned away and told to return at 8:30 a.m. to register their kids for “Children First,” the half-day program set up by CPS as a contingency plan during the strike.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

CPS has set up 144 schools to provide activities for public school students from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day during the strike, but parents must first register their children for the program in their neighborhood.

Ten-year-old Michael Lin tried several times to explain the situation to his father in Chinese.

“My dad said he did not know,” Lin said. “He just wanted to ask why the teacher is on strike.”

The “Children First” will not offer instructional classes, just two meals, and various activities, including reading, games and videos. Many parents had mixed emotions as they dropped their kids off at those programs.

Meantime, many striking teachers were hitting the picket lines outside schools providing the half-day programs during the strike.

CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports the teachers say they’re determined to stand their ground.

At times, it’s been almost a party atmosphere, with plenty of honks and cheers from people driving by.

At Rueben Salazar Elementary Bilingual Center, on the Near North Side, and across the street at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, teachers were walking the same walk.

Teachers chanted “what do we want? Fair contract. When do we want it? Now!” as they marched on the picket line.

Payton librarian Linda Zolt said the teachers were, “Feeling supported, feeling happy that someone stood up for us.”

Of the two neighboring schools, only Payton opened its doors Monday, offering the Children First program.

While intended for high school students, no student was turned away from Payton. Officials wouldn’t let cameras inside, but said they have ample employees on hand to supervise activities, and meals for kids.

Outside, teachers enjoyed support from passersby, and parents, like Debra Hass, who joined their picket line.

“I think it’s a horrible situation for all of us, but I think the teachers are doing the right thing,” Hass said.

Inside William H. Ray Elementary School, children will receive boxes filled with games, puzzles, and art supplies to keep them busy during the half-day. Dr. Tatia Beckwith, the principal at Ray, said food service workers, and other non-union CPS staff are monitoring the students.

CBS 2’s Courtney Gousman reports, outside the school, dozens of teachers held their picket signs, chanted, and formed picket lines — as a handful of students and their parents tried to make their way into the building.

Staff with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said some of those parents were being discouraged from dropping their children off at the half-day sites.

Parents were faced with the choice of crossing the picket line to drop off their kids, or turn around to find something else to do with their children.

Yahu Vinayaraj decided not to drop his kids off for a half-day.
“There’ll be no formal teaching classes this week, so I don’t want to keep my children here. … so I’m taking them back to home,” he said.

Fellow parent Courtney Rolling said he was upset at the effect the strike was having on his son’s education.

“I’m mad that he had to come here and his learning is getting disrupted,” he said.

Parent Ola Esho said he felt his son and his 1-year-old daughter felt a bit intimidated having to pass through the crowd of protesting teachers to get to the half-day program at Ray Elementary.

“I think it was a little bit unnerving for both of them, yeah. I wasn’t happy about that,” Esho said.

Parents can sign up for the “Children First” program at the CPS website, or by calling 311.

Many Chicago Park District facilities, Chicago Public Library locations, and some local churches are also offering programs to provide CPS students with activities and safe environments during the strike.

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