Teachers set strike date at Instituto charter schools

Parents, teachers, and members of the Chicago Teacher’s Union rally and picket outside a charter school run by Instituto del Progreso Latino located at 2520 S. Western on Thursday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Teachers at two Instituto del Progreso Latino charter schools say they’ll go on strike early next month if their demands around staffing and pay aren’t met in contract negotiations. 

Represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, a few dozen Instituto educators announced Thursday that they plan to walk out Feb. 6 barring unexpected progress in bargaining. They unanimously voted to authorize a strike in December.

The two schools around Little Village, Instituto Health Science Career Academy and Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy, enroll a total of 550 students.

“We hope Instituto will come to the table between now and then, finally serious about reaching an agreement,” said Jen Conant, who heads the CTU’s charter division.

Staff there say they’re concerned about low bilingual staffing, better pay and protections for immigrant students and staff. There are particular worries about special education, where a mass resignation at the start of the school year has left the schools without special-ed teachers.

Represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, teachers at two Instituto del Progreso Latino charter schools, announced Thursday that they expect to walk out Feb. 6, unless progress is made at the bargaining table.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The union says it’s also fighting a management proposal that would limit educators’ union rights, including the ability to file grievances.

Instituto officials said the union’s view of negotiations featured “countless misstatements and lies,” and they highlighted tentative agreements on 25 issues in the two sides’ 52 meetings over the past year.

“To say that negotiations have stalled is simply inaccurate and certainly not because of our bargaining team’s lack of willingness and participation,” charter leaders said in a statement. “Despite CTU’s tactics and countless misstatements, we remain undeterred in our steadfast commitment to bargain in good faith.”

Instituto management said they’ve made fair pay proposals and are proud of their commitment to protecting immigrant students. They accused the union of disrupting school operations and other “unprofessional tactics” like “yelling at our Latina principal and using dog whistles at bargaining.”

Chicago’s Board of Education, which has oversight authority over privately run, publicly funded charter schools, has taken notice of some of the teacher concerns at Instituto. The board voted on contract renewals Thursday for charter operators that run 49 schools across Chicago, including Instituto’s Justice and Leadership Academy.

Teachers and supporters picket outside a charter school run by Instituto del Progreso Latino on Thursday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

While some other operators were renewed for four years, Instituto got a one-year renewal through June 2025 with conditions that must be met. The board wants Instituto officials to notify special-education parents by the end of March that services are not being provided, when those programs paused and how to request compensatory services. The board also wants proof that officials are taking steps to find and hire special-education staff.

From there, the charter operator will have to share monthly updates about special education and its finances, with quarterly reports about how it’s supporting students who are learning English.

Instituto leaders said they’re “working diligently with reputable special-education experts and consultants as well as CPS to fill any gaps resulting from a staffing shortage.” They also called for longer renewal terms for their schools and other charters.

“The unfortunate reality is that our high schools as well as all other charter schools across Chicago are being attacked by the vocal critics of school choice, in great part by CTU,” Instituto management said.

Conant said the Board of Education’s decision to only offer Instituto a one-year charter renewal “sends the message that Instituto must do better.”

“The fact that another one-year renewal with conditions was called for after Instituto failed to improve conditions under their previous renewal tells us that additional steps will be needed,” she said.

Carina Gutierrez, a staff mentor at Instituto, said she recently wrote in support of the charter’s renewal and wants to see the schools remain open, but she wants better support and oversight from CPS.

She cited an inefficient use of resources and a lack of counselors and special-education case managers, plus only one social worker for both campuses. And recent additions of new immigrant students have drawn resources thin, she said.

“We want the money going in to actually go to the schools, to go into the classrooms,” Gutierrez said. “This is what our students need and deserve.”

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