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Chicago – Chicago teachers went on strike Thursday, marching on picket lines in defense of their union’s “social justice” agenda after failing to reach a contract deal in a dispute that canceled classes for more than 300,000 students.

The strike in the nation’s third-largest school district came after the Chicago Teachers Union confirmed Wednesday night that its 25,000 members would not return to their classrooms. It follows months of negotiations between the union and Chicago Public Schools that failed to resolve disputes over pay and benefits, class size and teacher preparation time.

Picketing teachers said Thursday the walkout was about getting more resources and smaller class sizes for students in the cash-strapped district, not about putting more money in their pockets.

Outside Smyth Elementary, a predominantly black and low-income school on the city’s near South Side, art teacher John Houlihan said “we’re not fighting for paychecks and health care. It’s the kids.”

“It’s ridiculous to say that you can put these kids who are dealing with profound poverty and profound homelessness in classes of 30-40 kids,” said Houlihan, who picketed with about 20 other teachers and staff as drivers passed by, honking their horns. “That’s not manageable and it is not an environment for learning.”

The strike is Chicago’s first major walkout by teachers since 2012 and city officials announced early Wednesday that all classes were canceled for Thursday in hopes of giving more planning time for parents. And just as that strike inspired unions in Los Angeles and other politically left-leaning cities to walk off the job and protest over issues such as class size and student services, unions nationwide are today watching closely to see how parents respond to a walkout based on a “social justice” agenda.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey joined teachers picketing outside Helen Peirce International Studies school, where he said every kindergarten class has at least 30 students. He said there’s “pent-up frustration” among union members about conditions in the schools, and the union wants some of those longstanding issues addressed.

“As of right now, as of this moment, we have still not seen those promises in writing,” Sharkey said. “That’s important and frankly it’s important what the words actually are. We don’t want a half measure, we want some of these basic conditions completely addressed.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was disappointed by the union’s decision to strike. “We are offering a historic package on the core issues – salary, staffing and class size,” she said.

Lightfoot voiced frustration about what she sees as the union’s lack of urgency to make a deal.

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