CHICAGO (AP) — Negotiations between union and school officials in the third-largest U.S. school district resumed Thursday with an air of optimism and signals that a teachers' strike could end soon.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said students could be back in class by Monday, a week after teachers walked out. Lewis initially suggested classes could resume as early as Friday, then said approval of a final proposal would require a union delegates' meeting, which could take more time.
"We still have some major stuff we have to look at," she told reporters Thursday on her way into the talks. "Doing something fast is not the way to go. Haste makes waste."
Roughly 25,000 teachers have been on the picket line since Monday while negotiators have been locked into tense talks. Issues on the table have included teacher evaluations that incorporate students' standardized test scores and job security.
The walkout canceled class for approximately 350,000 students and left parents scrambling to make other arrangements for young children. The district has kept some schools open on a limited basis, mostly to provide meals and supervision. More than 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
The strike is an unwelcome political distraction for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief aide to President Barack Obama who just took on a larger role in his old boss's campaign. And in a year when labor unions have been losing ground nationwide, the implications were sure to extend far beyond Chicago.
Contract talks ended shortly before midnight Wednesday, and Lewis said the sides had definitely come closer together. School board President David Vitale was also more positive after Wednesday's talks and was hopeful of a deal.
The optimism was evident on the picket lines, too.
"I know that we will have a good resolution to this, and I do believe it will be soon," said Michelle Gunderson, an elementary school teacher picketing on the city's North Side. "And they do not mean to have us be embroiled in this for longer than we have to."
The walkout is the first Chicago teachers' strike in 25 years.
Associated Press Writer Teresa Crawford contributed to this report.