Elfega Cazares isn't taking sides in the stand-off between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools over contract talks. Like many of the immigrant parents in the city's Pilsen neighbourhood, she knows her children stand to lose the most if teachers walk off the job next Monday.
"It is very important that we stay in school so we can be prepared to be someone in life," Cazares said, her 10-year-old son Francisco Vasquez translating for her from Spanish.
But students across the city, most of whom return to school today, could find themselves out of the classroom again on September 10.
At a time when teachers' unions are under pressure nationwide, union President Karen Lewis said more than 26,000 teachers and support staff in the nation's third-largest school district are prepared to strike for the first time in 25 years. It would be the first big-city strike in the United States. since Detroit teachers walked off the job for 16 days in 2006. The last Chicago teachers' strike was in 1987 and lasted 19 days.
School officials and parents shifted into high gear after the union issued a 10-day strike notice last week, trying to decide what to do with 400,000 students, including those in neighbourhoods beset by gangs and struggling with a spike in shootings and homicides. District officials said they would chaperone students during the morning in 145 schools, and invited bids from community organisations to provide "positive activities" the rest of the day.