Chicago fight with teachers union stretches into 2nd week

Chicago school leaders are canceling classes for a fourth day in the nation’s third-largest school district, taking the dispute with the teachers union over remote learning and COVID-19 protocols into another week

Via AP news wire
Monday 10 January 2022 04:47
Virus Outbreak Chicago Schools
Virus Outbreak Chicago Schools

Chicago school leaders canceled class a fourth day in the nation’s third-largest district as negotiations with the teachers’ union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols failed to produce an agreement over the weekend.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a joint statement Sunday evening that there wasn't “sufficient progress" in talks to resume in-person classes Monday, extending disruptions into a second school week. But they vowed negotiations would continue “through the night.”

Disputed issues included testing and metrics to close schools. The Chicago Teachers Union wants the option to revert to districtwide remote instruction, and most members have refused to teach in-person until there's an agreement, or the latest COVID-19 spike subsides. But Chicago leaders reject districtwide remote learning, saying it's detrimental to students and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago opted to cancel classes as a whole two days after students returned from winter break.

Chicago faces the same pandemic issues as other districts nationwide, with more reverting to remote learning as infections soar and staff members are sidelined. But the situation in union-friendly Chicago has been amplified in a labor dispute that's familiar to families in the mostly low-income Black and Latino district who have seen disruptions during a similar safety protocol fight last year, a 2019 strike and a one-day work stoppage in 2016.

The announcement for the roughly 350,000-student district came as the principals of some schools had already notified families their schools would be closed for instruction Monday because of staffing shortages.

The tone of Lightfoot and Martinez's Sunday evening statement suggested more progress than a day earlier when shortly after the union made its latest offer public, they said, “CTU leadership, you’re not listening” and vowed not to “relent." The offer she rejected included teachers reporting to schools Monday to distribute laptops for remote learning to temporarily start Wednesday. Both sides have filed complaints to a state labor board.

Union leaders have accused Lightfoot of bullying, saying they agree that in-person instruction is better, but the pandemic is forcing difficult decisions. Attendance was down ahead of the cancelations due students and teachers in isolation from possible exposure to the virus and families opting to keep children home voluntarily.

“Educators are not the enemy Mayor Lightfoot wants them to be,” the union said in a statement Sunday, adding that the desire to be in the classroom “must be balanced by ensuring those classrooms are safe, healthy and well-resourced, with the proper mitigation necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Union leaders did not immediately have a response after the district's Sunday evening cancelation.

There appeared to be some headway over the weekend toward a deal.

The district, which deems the fight an “illegal walkout,” said late Saturday it will allow more incentives for substitute teachers, provide KN95 masks for all teachers and students, and that Illinois will provide about 350,000 antigen tests. But both sides remained at odds on key issues including COVID-19 metrics that will lead to individual school closures and compensation. The district said it won't pay teachers failing to report to schools, even if they tried to log into remote teaching systems. The union doesn't want any of its roughly 25,000 members to be disciplined or lose pay.

District leaders had said some schools, where enough staff showed up, may offer instruction Monday even without an agreement; all buildings have remained open for meal pickup. However, only a handful of principals anticipated having staff to open.

School leaders have touted a $100 million safety plan, which includes air purifiers in each classroom. Also, roughly 91% of staff are vaccinated and masks are required indoors.

Since the start of the academic year, some individual classrooms have temporarily switched to remote instruction when there are infections. But in rejecting a widescale return to remote learning, city health officials argue most students directed to quarantine because of possible classroom exposure don’t get COVID-19. The district is piloting a “test to stay” program to cut isolation times.

The union argues that the measures fall short, especially considering the omicron-fueled surge that has upended the return to work and class. It has also criticized the district for not enrolling enough students in a testing program and an unreliable database of COVID-19 infections.

Several district families, represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, filed a lawsuit in Cook County over the closures last week, while more than 5,000 others have signed a petition urging a return to in-person instruction.

___

Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in