As a potential return to in-person learning draws nearer for some Chicago Public Schools students, the Chicago Teachers Union is seeking an outside mediator to help in negotiations with the district over classroom reopenings.
The union on Sunday made a formal request to CPS to engage in mediation over reopening issues before any students are brought back into school buildings.
“We have a mutual obligation to deliver the best possible education to the children of the City of Chicago under the safest possible conditions,” the CTU said in a tweet Sunday evening.
Monday marked the first day of the second quarter of the school year for CPS students. While all children are learning at home for now, the district has signaled its intent to bring back pre-K and some special education cluster program students for in-person learning in the coming weeks or months.
But union members are wary of bringing any groups back into schools — especially some of the district’s most vulnerable students — while a second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Chicago and the country at large.
“How is it possible for us to endorse a plan if we’re going back into school buildings when we don’t have any trust with the employer?” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said during a press conference Monday morning. “And how is it possible to develop trust if you don’t even have communication?”
BREAKING: We have sent notice to Chicago Public Schools requesting the services of a mediator to aid in school reopening negotiations. We have a mutual obligation to deliver the best possible education to the children of the City of Chicago under the safest possible conditions.
— ChicagoTeachersUnion (@CTULocal1) November 9, 2020
Sharkey said the district polled parents late last month and found that 72% of respondents said community spread of the coronavirus must be under control before they’d feel comfortable sending their children back for in-person schooling.
The CTU had sought a preliminary injunction barring CPS from implementing its reopening plan, but that request was denied last week by the Illinois Labor Relations Board on the grounds that the school district had not yet set a date for students to return.
The union has also filed labor practice charges over an alleged refusal by CPS to bargain with the CTU, and the quality of ventilation systems within CPS schools. The school district last week said it will spend $8.5 million on 20,000 air purifiers to combat the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms and common spaces within schools.
But CTU leaders have criticized the district and the city for seemingly changing its guidelines for a school reopening. Data from the Chicago Department of Public Health on Monday showed the city has a rolling average of nearly 1,600 new cases per day over the last week.
That’s four times higher than the mark the city previously said could trigger full-time remote learning.
In a statement, CPS spokesperson Emily Bolton said that the law “does not require the district to bargain” with the CTU over its decision to reopen schools. But she said CPS has received the union's mediation request and is currently reviewing it.
“We continue to meet and work with CTU, as we have all year,” she said, “in the hopes they will become a productive partner in getting students safely back to in-person learning."