The Chicago Board of Education says it’s agreed to bring in an outside mediator to aid in its negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union — but only on the issue of the impact of school reopenings, not the decision of when to bring students back for in-person learning.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the CTU’s legal team, board Labor Relations Officer Kaitlyn Girard wrote: “The (Chicago Board of Education) will not engage in mediation over its decision to reopen schools. As you are well aware, decisions to determine the places of instruction, whether remote or in-person, are permissive subjects of bargaining ... and the CBE has no obligation to bargain its decision.”
The union Sunday made a formal request for mediation over reopening issues before any students are brought back into school buildings. Chicago Public Schools has said it plans to bring pre-K and some special education students back for in-person instruction during the second quarter of the school year, which began Monday.
But an official return date for those students has not yet been set.
The CTU responded to the board’s letter Tuesday, saying the board only agreed to mediation on the conditions it can walk away at any time; have no obligation to negotiate; and is free to make decisions without input from parents or teachers.
“They are willing to meet with a mediator if CTU will sign off that it is 100% up to CPS to decide when to return to the buildings, what protections are in place, and when students, staff and schools are ‘safe enough,’” the union said in a statement.
CTU officials have repeatedly called on CPS to improve remote learning and keep kids out of schools as Chicago experiences a second surge of COVID-19 cases. Data from the Chicago Department of Public Health shows the city has a seven-day rolling average of 1,784 new cases per day. That’s up 38% from the previous week.
Chicago’s rolling average for test positivity is at 13.6%, up from 10.4% last week.
Despite those increases, city health officials have maintained that disease transmission in schools is rare when proper safety protocols such as social distancing, mask wearing and surface cleaning are enforced.
The union has 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.
The CTU had also sought a preliminary injunction barring CPS from implementing its reopening plan, but the 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 virus is surging,” the union said in a statement. “And under any and all conditions, reopening must be done safely. We will stand for nothing less.”