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Kids Prepare For First Day Of Class Amid Longer Day Debate

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As students and parents were preparing for the first day of school in just two days, the head of the teachers union was standing firm in insisting that schools should wait for a more detailed plan before implementing a longer school day.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Sunday that she isn't upset that teachers of three schools have voted for a longer school day, but she'd like to know all of the details that went into the decision.

She said she doesn't think the vote shows the union isn't unified, rather, "We are so dedicated that we are easily moved by this message, so we want to make sure that we're doing it right and I hope those people have plans," CTU President Karen Lewis said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Michele Fiore reports


She said she wants to be sure those teachers followed proper procedure in making that vote.

"We would like to get in touch with them to see how things were done, so that it was procedurally correct," Lewis said.

Speaking to Mission of Faith Baptist Church at 113th and Prairie on Sunday, Lewis said union rank-and-file believe principals are being pressured, making reference to the additional $150,000 given to each of the schools, in addition to the two percent pay raises for teachers.

Church members applauded loudly as Lewis said it isn't right that children feel pressured to do well on a test, or if they don't, be responsible for someone losing their job.

Before services, Lewis spoke with the media, saying it's not a question of if but when schools get a longer day, so why be so impatient? Rather, she says this should be a planning year.

"And then when you hear people blame the unions for all of the problems, you have to ask yourself, 'How did that happen?'" Lewis said.

She said she's upset that teachers are being demonized during the debate over a longer school day.

Lewis admits she hasn't spoken recently with Mayor Rahm Emanuel lately, but assumes they will soon.

As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports, at 100 Chicago churches on Sunday, all over the city, Chicago teachers brought their frustrations to the pulpit in Labor Day addresses, voicing an argument they say is being lost on the general public.

"We are just being … just set aside. We are not being respected for what we do," said teacher Jacquelyn Price-Ward. "And it's not about the money, it's about the children."

Listening intently in Englewood, Vershan Arnold, a mother of four CPS students said, "There's a lot of adversity put on the teachers right now. One, there's too many children. They don't have an assistant in the classroom."

But Arnold said she also knows the best education for her children is one where teachers are willing to adapt. Some at her school were voluntarily working longer hours to begin with.

"Those teachers who are getting in the trenches, those are the ones that I respect, those are the ones that I admire and look up to," she said.

But, like many parents, Arnold said she still understands the concerns voiced in church on Sunday.

"You have to stand on something in order to get your point across," she said.

Lewis said teachers are not against the extended school day, just how it's being used.

For example, she believes more instructional time for reading and math would not be as beneficial as additional time for the arts and she thinks these items need to be worked out before the day is extended.

"I'm going to say it again, it can't just be reading, writing and arithmetic. It's got to be music and art and civics and science and world languages," Lewis said.

The pastor of Mission of Faith Baptist Church cited safety concerns in extending the school day. He says, let's face it, for kids on the north side, it's no big deal. But on the south side, a longer school day may put children outside in the dark, and that could be a safety issue that needs to be addressed with police.

Lewis says she's not so concerned by Friday's vote at three schools to extend the school day, considering there are 595 other schools who are together in their "no" vote.

Some have suggested principals are being bribed. Lewis says call it what you want - bribery or incentives - if you're being offered iPads and extra money, it is interesting that people think they can go around the contract any way they want.

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