CHICAGO -- The Chicago Teachers Union agreed on Tuesday to end its strike in the nation's third-largest school system, allowing 350,000 children to return to classes on Wednesday after seven days with no school.
The announcement came after 800 union delegates from schools across the city met for two hours behind closed doors to debate a proposed contract. The tentative deal, drafted by negotiators for the teachers and the city, hit snags earlier in the week as union delegates complained that they had not had sufficient time to digest it and, in some cases, did not like what it said. On Tuesday, the delegates voted by what two delegates described as an overwhelming majority to lift the strike, though the contract still requires ratification in a vote by the union's 26,000 members.
While a halt to the teachers' strike, this city's first in a quarter century, may end the immediate, local contract fight over job security, teacher evaluations, pay and working conditions, the episode brought to the forefront larger questions, still unanswered, about the philosophical direction of public education, a national agenda for change, and the potency of unions.
And although the political players in this fight were Chicagoans -- some saw it as a highly personal standoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat in his first term as mayor, and Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president -- the matter swept in national politics as well. Even as the
Parents, weary and impatient as one week without school stretched into a second, were deeply relieved to learn that the strike was over. So were officials at the Chicago Public Schools and City Hall, which had been seeking a legal injunction to end the strike under a state law that bars teachers from striking over noneconomic issues.
A court hearing scheduled for Wednesday was expected to be canceled.
It remained uncertain how students might make up for lost days.
By Tuesday, there were signs that union leaders realized they needed to move quickly. The union issued a leaflet aimed at maintaining patience from Chicagoans.
"We would like to express our profound gratitude for your support in our fight for quality public education and a fair contract," the leaflet said. It proceeded to list issues on which the union said it had gained ground during the strike, including limiting class size, getting textbooks on the first day of school (rather than weeks later) and increasing money for special-education teachers.