Judge Rules All District 15 School Support Staff Can Join Strike

CHICAGO (CBS) — More than 150 school support staff have rejoined a strike in Palatine, after a judge lifted an order that temporarily forced them back to work for a week.

A strike by the Educational Support Personnel Association at Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15 started with 454 employees on Oct. 16. The strike included nurses, special education classroom aides, clerical workers, secretaries, sign language interpreters, occupational and physical therapists, training assistants, and other support staff.

One day after the strike began, a Cook County judge ordered 168 staffers back to work. The district has argued there was a “clear and present danger” to the health and safety of students without the nurses and special education classroom assistants on the job.

On Monday, the judge lifted the restraining order, and the nurses and special ed classroom assistants were allowed to return to the picket lines. The judge ruled more hearings are needed to decide which striking employees should be classified as essential, and prevented from walking off the job. Another hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 7.

Thousands of students attend the district’s 15 elementary schools, 4 junior high schools, and 1 preschool. All 20 schools have been open throughout the strike.

District 15 Deputy Supt. Matt Barbini has said the strike has been especially hard on special needs students.

“They did not have their paraprofessionals that they count on every day, and so we really administratively – with the teachers and other folks – were as flexible as we could be to meet their needs,” he said.

Special education aide and ESPA negotiator Jennifer Elkins said she’d like to see contract talks resume before Sunday, when they’re next scheduled.

“Any time, any day, any place, anywhere; we want to get back to work, and serve the families, and most of all the children that we love,” she said.

District spokeswoman Morgan Delack said efforts were being made to move up the negotiating schedule.

The district and ESPA have been negotiating a new contract since February, and the workers have gone without a contract since July. The main points of contention have been wages, health care benefits, and pensions.

Delack said the two sides are very close on pay.

“That’s not a huge number. We have invited them to come back to work and negotiate through this,” she said.

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