The Chicago teachers' strike is over.
The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates voted Tuesday to end its strike after seven days, meaning classes will be in session Wednesday for 350,000 Chicago Public Schools students.
"Everybody is going back to school," said Jay Rehak, a delegate from Whitney Young High School.
Delegate Mike Bochner said "an overwhelming majority" of delegates voted to suspend the strike on a voice vote.
"I'm really excited, I'm really relieved," said Bochner, a teacher at Cesar Chavez elementary.
At a press conference a short time after the vote, CTU President Karen Lewis said the vote was approved by a margin of "like 98 percent to 2."
"There are some people that are going to be die-hard hold-outs," she said.
" ... We said that it was time, that we couldn't solve all the problems of the world with one contract. And it was time to suspend the strike."
Chicago Public Schools wasted no time embracing the news. A banner went up on its website shortly after the vote.
"Information alert: CTU leadership has chosen to end the strike. All CPS schools will be re-open Wednesday, September 19," it read. "Chicago Teachers Union leadership has chosen to end the strike. All Chicago Public Schools will re-open on Wednesday, September 19, and all CPS students are expected to be back in the classroom."
It was standing room only inside Operating Engineers hall at Cermak and Grove for the union meeting, which ran for about two hours Tuesday afternoon before the strike was suspended around 5 p.m.
Hoots, hollers, applause and what sounded like a cowbell erupted multiple times from inside the closed-door meeting. A final loud cheer broke out in the hall moments before hundreds of delegates streamed outside, smiles on their faces, after the vote.
One woman carried a sign reading "Back to School Wednesday."
"I feel great about it," said Rolando Vazquez, a delegate from Brighton Park Elementary School. "We're going back to school tomorrow. The parents and the [people in the] city were with us, three-to-one against [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel. And we made a great show of strength."
The delegates voted to suspend the strike but did not weigh in the deal itself, he said. Vazquez said some delegates argued unsuccessfully to continue the strike.
"We looked at what we lost and what we gained," said delegate David Boby of Sullivan High. "The children of Chicago are the net winners because the are going to have their teachers back in their classrooms tomorrow."
At the meeting, delegates were given a summary of the contract's key issues. An introduction to that summary declared victory on several issues.
"Our brothers and sisters throughout the country have been told that corporate 'school reform' was unstoppable, that merit pay had to be accepted and that the public would never support us if we decided to fight. Cities everywhere have been forced to accept performance pay," the statement said.
"Not here in Chicago. Months ago, CTU members won a strike authorization, one that our enemies thought would be impossible. Now we have stopped the board are imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were
history. We held the line on healthcare costs. We have tremendous victories in this contract; however, it is by no means perfect. While we did not win on every front and will need to continue our struggle into the future, we soundly defended our profession from an aggressive and dishonest attack. We owe our victories to each and every member of
this rank and rile union. Our power comes from the bottom up."
Earlier, striking Chicago teachers returned to the picket line Tuesday - and some hoped it would be for the last time.
"We're all pretty optimistic it will end today," said Bob Geiger, a physical education teacher at Whitney Young High School, among the city's most academically elite.
The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates is meeting Tuesday afternoon to vote on whether to call off the strike and return teachers to their classrooms.
After reviewing and discussing a 23-page union summary of the deal, "our consensus was to come back," Geiger said Young's delegates.
Based on what teachers had in hand, "There's no reason we can't talk while we're teaching," he said.
That is also how many parents felt.
"We're on day seven. This is long enough," said Julia Kim, who helped organized a group of about 20 parents to picket outside the CTU's Merchandize Mart headquarters Tuesday.
"We're against the strike. We're against the CTU. We want the strike to be over and the entire bargaining process to take place while kids are in school," said Kim, who has a fourth-grade CPS student.
Her group, carrying signs saying "If you care about the kids go back to school,'' started picketing outside the Mart on Monday and planned to do so every day at noon until the strike ends, Kim said.
Other parents, however, said they thought teachers should take as much time as they need.
About 40 parents and community members of a group called Action Now held a rally in North Lawndale in support of teachers Tuesday morning.
"We absolutely don't think teachers should have ended their strike on Sunday," said organizer and Herzl Elementary School Local School Council member Windy Pearson.
"Delegates were given 23 pages of a 180-page contract that was not complete. The members weren't given anything," she said. " ... They're expected to vote on something without seeing it.
She added: "The parents that are now standing on the opposite side of the fence telling teachers to go back to school should understand that no one would sign anything without seeing it."
Indeed, other teachers wanted more time to examine the deal, including some walking the picket line Monday and Tuesday at Bond Elementary.
Teachers wanted to know more about what job protections union leaders had secured for laid-off teachers, and how the new teacher evaluation system would work, said Bond delegate Jacqueline Ward.
With teachers fearing stepped-up school closures based on academic performance and under-enrollment, evaluations can sink or buoy a laid-off teacher's chances of being rehired, Ward said. Bond is currently on academic probation.
"If evaluations determine your livelihood, that's important," Ward said. "Just treat it fairly. How are we going to ensure this is the way it's going to be? [Teachers] have zero trust in [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education."
Delegate Dave Hernandez of Social Justice High School said one of the school's neighborhood restaurants opened early Monday to let CTU members - about 95 percent of the teaching staff - meet there to discuss the latest proposal.
Teachers were heartened that the first year of teacher evaluations will not carry stakes for tenured teachers, he said.
"Teachers are not opposed to being evaluated. We just want a fair system," Hernandez said.
"It doesn't make sense to [use] this new system and then hold us accountable," the first year, he said. "Everyday we see principals unable to do the current evaluation system. The new system has them jumping through even more hoops."
The defeat of merit pay - something other urban districts have instituted - as well as the preservation of "step" pay increases for additional years of experience and "lane" increases for additional degrees also was seen as a plus, Hernandez said. So were special pay hikes for the most veteran teachers.
"You want to reward experience and have the most experienced teachers in front of students," Hernandez said.
About 50 parents on Tuesday tried to deliver to Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard what they said were 1,000 postcards of support for teachers.
The group rallied outside of CPS headquarters, where security guards collected the postcards.
Erica Clark said the group stands by the teachers and will continue to do so, even if the strike continues.
"Parents are asking for the same things the teachers ask for," she said.
About 40 parents and community members of a group called Action Now also held a rally in North Lawndale in support of teachers Tuesday morning.
"We absolutely don't think teachers should have ended their strike on Sunday," said organizer and Herzl Elementary School LSC member Windy Pearson.
"Delegates were given 23 pages of a 180-page contract that was not complete. The members weren't given anything," she said. "I was standing at Dvorak School yesterday, and the delegate had to spend her own money to make copies for her teachers. So still, teachers are coming out of their own pockets, and then they're expected to vote on something without seeing it."
Contributing: Kim Janssen and Stefano Esposito