Amid ongoing negotiations, students, parents brace for possible teachers’ strike


Students and parents fear a looming teacher’s strike could disrupt the transition back to full-day in-person learning and pause extracurricular activities after the school year begins.

On Aug. 10, amid turbulent negotiations between the union and the district, District 203 posted a statement on its website entitled “Threatened NUEA Union Strike on First Day of School Illegal,” detailing why the NUEA cannot strike on the Aug. 19 school start date. A district posting Tuesday was more encouraging, calling that day’s dialogue “productive.”

The first day of a legal strike could be Aug. 25, four days into the school year.  

“Selfishly, [a strike] would be very disruptive. Especially as a student who has spent the last year online, I just really hope for a consistent year of learning,” senior Ella Xu said. “If I zoom out a little bit though, I think we need to value our teachers and what they need.”

The union’s contract with the district expired June 30, but the pressure to reach an agreement mounts as the potential strike date moves closer. An “overwhelming” majority of the union voted with intent to strike last week, but were forced to postpone after a procedural error by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, according to an Illinois Education Association press release. The NUEA’s demands include expanded paid parental leave and pay raises for the introduction of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, a program they believe increases teacher’s workload.

In a board meeting on Aug. 16, the district reiterated that the strike is not a certainty, stating that additional negotiation sessions have been scheduled in the days leading up to Aug. 25. The district has also offered a one-time $300 “appreciation” payment to be made as compensation within 30 days of an approved contract and increased their original offer of allowing the use of six weeks of sick time for parental leave to eight.

The union and other community members have gathered to show support for the Naperville Unit Education Association multiple times, marching to a district board meeting on Aug. 2 and again on Monday evening. Ryan Smith, the NUEA’s Public Relations Committee Chair, said that the NUEA has received support from community members. 

“We’ve had some nice posts to our “Support Naperville Teachers” Facebook page from community members sharing stories about how NUEA teachers have helped their children,” Smith wrote in an email. 

For students, a strike would disrupt not only academics but clubs and sports, which are sponsored and coached by teachers.

This is especially an issue for fall student athletes like senior Claire Jansen, who is hoping to continue her swimming career in college. 

“Right now I’m in the middle of my recruitment process with some schools, and coaches want to see that I’m training and competing and they want to keep track of my times,” Jansen said. “If we’re not competing, coaches have no basis to see where I am. It just interferes with the whole process.”

Clubs that use the fall season to prepare for a rigorous competition season would also take a hit if their meetings were to be suspended.

“For Science Olympiad, we have a very extensive tryouts and recruitment process that happens at the beginning of the year, adhering to a tight schedule so that we can prepare for our competitions,” Xu, the club’s senior captain, said. “If a teachers’ strike were to happen, that would be delayed which would delay our forming of teams and therefore how competitive we can be in the season.”

There is no way to tell how long a potential strike would last, and it could end up having some long-term impacts on students, according to junior Gabi Ursu.

“If we couldn’t get a start on organizing our club meetings, or for people doing sports, it would really mess up not only the fun of the activity but also the chances that some people might have of adding things to their college applications,” Ursu said. 

Parents, especially those with young kids, would likely also be burdened by a strike. 

“I know during COVID-19 times that childcare can be very limited. Even just trying to find daycare these days can be very difficult because they have a limited number of students they are allowed to have, so I think there will be some parents who have to take a day or two off of work as things get figured out,” Shannon Baratta, the mother of a District 203 kindergarten student, said.

The specific placement of a strike on Aug. 25, allowing for four full days of school before it starts, would make scheduling even more awkward for students and parents.

“It would be weird, having a week of school and having it shut down. I don’t know what we would get done in that amount of time,” Jansen said.

District officials expressed an understanding of the consequences of a strike, but placed blame on the union for the impasse in an Aug. 10 website posting.

“Particularly given the difficult circumstances for students, parents and our community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are disappointed that NUEA would plan to delay the return-to-school while negotiations continue,” the district wrote. 

Union leadership also acknowledges the problems that a strike could cause, but continues to advocate for their contract. 

“We know that strikes are disruptive, and nobody wants a strike. Nothing we are bargaining for is outside the financial resources the district currently has,” Smith wrote in an email. 

Negotiations continue and in the meantime, students wait to find out whether classes and extracurricular activities will be put on pause in late August. 

“I definitely think people will be less fazed by the change after having experienced all of these crazy things for the last year and a half,” Ursu said.