(CNN)The country's third biggest school district has canceled classes as 25,000 educators plan to walk off the job Thursday.
Chicago teachers are about to go on strike, leaving 360,000 kids in limbo
The Chicago Teachers Union's demands reflect what teachers across the country have been clamoring for: smaller class sizes, more support staff, higher raises.
But in Chicago, the dynamics are different -- and in some cases, dire.
About 75% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. In some neighborhoods, gangs and violence permeate the streets.
School social worker Emily Penn fought back tears when describing how badly students need more support staff.
"Our students suffer from trauma. They suffer from so many things they need help coping with," Penn said.
Many child deaths are "by suicide and by guns. This is a fact in Chicago," she said.
The school district has offered hundreds more support staff and 16% raises for teachers -- an average of about $19,000.
But teachers say those concessions aren't enough, and they're ready to strike. That means 360,000 students have no idea when they'll see their teachers again.
"Our students deserve smaller class sizes. They deserve nurses. They deserve social workers. They deserve bilingual educators," special education teacher Linda Perales said. "We don't want to strike, but we will if we have to."
The union listed more than a dozen demands for the school district, including firm limits on class sizes, hiring more teachers' assistants and raises for all school employees.
Willie Cousins has worked as a teacher's assistant at Bond Elementary School for past five years.
"In those five years, I have been working with a salary of less than $30,000 a year," he said.
"And to make ends meet, I've had to pick up an extra job at Walmart, Food 4 Less, it all depends because of my salary. But I have a family of four that I have to provide for."
He said the cost of living in Chicago makes it particularly difficult to live on an educator's salary.
"We are required to live in the city. So how can I live off of that when skyrocketing rent is unbelievable?" he said. "Please, we deserve a fair wage in this city."
Then there's the lack of librarians, bilingual teachers and other support staff.
Nine of 10 majority-black schools have no teacher librarians, and there aren't enough teachers for English language learners in the district, which the union said is "nearly half Latinx," the union said.
Lori Torres is the mother of three children in Chicago Public Schools.
"My youngest son ... has never known what it is to have a librarian," she said.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said a lack of support staff greatly impedes the students' ability to learn.
"Our schools don't have (librarians), and we're trying to teach kids to do well on reading tests," he said.
Chicago Public Schools has proposed a series of offers, including 16% raises for teachers, or an average of about $19,000.