PHOTOS: Classes begin for CPS students as strike looms - FOX 32 News Chicago

PHOTOS: Classes begin for CPS students as strike looms

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Classes began under a cloud of uncertainty for the Chicago Public Schools community Tuesday morning.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard spoke with FOX Chicago Schools about the first day celebrations at Roberto Clemente High School.

Community watch members were on hand to make sure students arrived at school safely. The school had all sorts of activities planned, like a radio broadcast and a rally to get kids excited about school.

There were special student performances, and Brizard will ring the bell to kick off the first day.

Their teachers had a rally of their own in Daley Plaza on Labor Day, trying to call attention to the discord between them and the cps board. By some estimates, 10,000 people filled the plaza and spilled onto downtown streets.

See: Teachers union rallies for fair contract on Labor Day

Other public unions marched along with the teachers, including unions for Chicago police and firefighters.

Brizard said CPS is still focused on negotiations, but CTU President Karen Lewis said that just isn't the case. She called Mayor Rahm Emanuel bully and a liar at the rally.

"We have been negotiating in good faith from the very beginning," Lewis said. "So, we would ask that people, instead of talking to us about not striking, they should talk to the board about trying to solve this problem."

She said that before he was sworn in last year, Emanuel made comments about the lowest 25 percent of Chicago students not being worth educational support.

The mayor denies he made those comments.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union unanimously agreed to go on strike Sept. 10 if the Chicago Board of Education could not work out a fair contract for them. They held a special meeting late Monday afternoon, following the Labor Day rally.

About 145,000 kids begin classes Tuesday on the regular track; Track-E students started school earlier this summer. Both groups are getting used to a longer school day.

They have new bus schedules and new start times. There's a lot of stress involved with the first day, but the CPS community hopes the kids will enjoy it and feel confident as classes begin.

Brizard said kids have a knack for adapting quickly – it may be the adults who take longer to adjust to the change.

"If you look at the excitement [here]," Brizard said, "you know kids are excited. Everyone is excited. At this moment no one is thinking about a potential strike."

But parents and teachers had the strike and contract negotiations on their mind as school began, and Brizard spoke to the progress that may have been made over the Labor Day holiday.

"We made progress over the weekend. Both teams are committed to coming to resolution. That kind of rhetoric unfortunately does not make its way to the table," Brizard said. "Both teams are working very hard to come to resolution. We understand the stress on families. As a father, I can tell you I would not know what to do with my child. That kind of stress has to be hard on families."

Parents would be in quite a fix if a fair deal cannot be reached. Even though CPS' "Children First" contingency plan will be in effect, most parents will still have to arrange for childcare if their kids are not in school full time.

See: CPS will implement 'Children First' if teachers strike

"We are committed to making sure this gets resolved," Brizard said. "I want to make sure next Monday is a full school day. Parents need to know both sides are working hard to come to resolution. So we don't have a walkout next Monday."

Brizard hopes the progress students made in the last school year will not be halted by a strike.

"When you look at the indicators across the city for the past year, everything is up," Brizard said. "Graduation, reading scores, math scores. Everything is up. [They're the ] highest rates in history in the system. We cannot afford to have this wonderful work not be there. Here at Clemente, this principal and teachers have put together a plan for the full day which is second to none. Amazing innovation here. They have to be allowed to continue their work."

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