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Chicago Orgs Scramble To Watch Kids During Strike


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


I'm Melissa Block. And we begin this hour with day two of the Chicago teachers' strike. Some 350,000 students are affected by the walkout in the nation's third-largest school district. We'll have a report on how the strike is playing out in the presidential race.

CORNISH: But, first, NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on how parents, churches and local charities are scrambling to figure out what to do with so many kids with nowhere to go.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Even when there's no school, there's still rules.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: No throwing the wood chips.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No throwing the wood chips.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: No climbing up the slide.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No climbing up the slide.

GLINTON: The Southside YMCA in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood is often a safe haven for kids after school, on weekends and during the summer, and now during the school day. Fran Bell is with the Y. She shows me around the Y and the programs they've had to put together at the last minute.

FRAN BELL: What we're providing is really, like, extended day camp: structured play, you know, arts and crafts, you know, physical education type of things that are fun. Okay, no problem. Just making sure - hey. Just making sure the kids have a - good morning, Edgar - a safe place to be and an enjoyable place to be, and so they're not stressed out and neither are their families.

GLINTON: Bell says normally during the day, the Y sees adults and seniors using their facilities, not kids. And the strike has sent them scrambling.

BELL: Normally, during the day, we would not be staffed for this many children because school would be in session. And so, we were able to garner volunteers and even our senior management staff that would normally be in our corporate office, all came out to assist during the morning so that...

GLINTON: So it's all hands on deck.

BELL: It is absolutely all hands on deck. Yes.

GLINTON: Nonprofits are not the only places that are staffed to handle kids. Chicago public schools budgeted $25 million for drop-in centers for students. Those centers were initially open only until 12:30. School officials announced today they're extending those hours to 2:30. That still leaves a gap for parents who work during the day.

JANISSE NORMAN: I'm absolutely frustrated and irritated by the whole situation.

GLINTON: Janisse Norman was dropping her son off at the YMCA. She blames the teachers and the union.

NORMAN: I've actually considered transferring him to Catholic school or to a - the schools that aren't mandated by the union. So - because this is unacceptable. I think it if they'll strike once, at the mercy of our children, they'll do it again.

GLINTON: Many parents are sympathetic to striking teachers. Kimberly Morris says she agrees with the teachers, but she says the strike has already been hard on her and her daughter.

KIMBERLY MORRIS: I mean, I have to work and I don't have any family members at home that could watch her, unfortunately. So, I mean, I had to find somewhere for her to go. And this was, you know, a safe place that should go, that she could, you know, stay engaged and participate in activities with other kids her age.

GLINTON: The YMCA and other nonprofits such as the Chicago Boys and Girls Clubs have shifted staff and opened facilities for parents and their kids. But just being open poses a logistical challenge. Many of those camp counselors and volunteers that staffed summer camp just a few weeks ago are now on to other things. Dick Malone is CEO of Chicago's YMCA. He says staff is the first problem. And...

RICHARD MALONE: Secondly, there's the issue of food. Children receive breakfast and lunch at the schools when they're in session. Well, we're going to need to provide food, as well. We're not equipped for that on a day-to-day basis.

GLINTON: Food banks and churches are stepping in to fill the void. Malone says he certainly wants the strike to end, but he and other leaders of nonprofits say it's given them a new opportunity to cooperate. Meanwhile, at the negotiating table, there doesn't appear to be a lot of movement. Here's Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking to reporters this afternoon.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: They are continuing to talk. They are working through the issues. But I do believe that it was totally avoidable, totally unnecessary. It was a strike of choice, and it's the wrong choice for our children.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, teachers have been rallying around the city. Kim Heiney says the reason she and co-workers are on the picket lines is because of the kids.

KIM HEINEY: We're saying we're doing it for you. We're doing it for better schools. It's frustrating when you hear Rahm say, let's think about the children. Like, you don't understand. We are thinking about the children. Don't put that spin on it. It's just - it's really frustrating.

GLINTON: And until the teachers and the mayor and the school board reach an agreement, Chicago charities say they'll try to make do. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.