Quick Hit Matthew Blake Monday August 20th, 2012, 7:26pm

No Strike Yet, But CTU Holds 'Informational Pickets' At Track E Schools

With no contract agreement in place for the new school year, Chicago Teachers Union members held what they called informational pickets today at six Track E schools that had their first day of class last week.

A statement from CTU made clear that while informational pickets are not the same as a strike, an eventual walkout is a distinct possibility. The union must give a 10-day notice to Chicago Public Schools before they strike and a union press release stated there has been “no 10-day strike notice issued, yet.”

The release also quotes CTU President Karen Lewis saying that “if talks continue as they have been” union members will be on the strike picket line. Also, the union alleges that CPS wants principals on the look out for teacher activity that disrupts the school day.

PI checked out one of the informational pickets this afternoon at Cather Elementary, a Track E or year-round school on the near West Side. About 35 teachers across Chicago who do not start classes until September 4 descended upon the school’s campus to show solidarity for Cather teachers and provide information to parents.

Much of the media coverage on CTU contract talks centers around teacher salaries. But teachers interviewed on the picket line mostly talked about working conditions, such as a desire for smaller class sizes and more social workers in schools.

Here are scenes from the rally and an interview with picketer Michelle Mottram, a teacher at Steinmetz College Prep on the North Side:

Asked for CPS’s take on the informational pickets, district spokeswoman Becky Carroll wrote in an e-mail that, “Students must always come first and shouldn’t be distracted from their learning especially now that kids throughout the district are benefiting from the start of the full school day.”

Carroll also wrote that CPS and CTU have made “significant progress over the last few weeks” in contract talks.

CTU, meanwhile, fired off a statement late this afternoon that claims CPS instructed principals to monitor union activity. The union says they obtained a confidential memo telling principals “to report any activities that cause a disruption to the school day.” These activities, for example, include “intermittent walk-outs or sit-downs.”

Calls to both CTU and CPS early this evening regarding the memo were not immediately returned. Check back with PI for more on the unfolding CPS-CTU contract talks and related actions.

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