It remains unclear when in-person learning will resume for students within Chicago Public Schools as the city has turned over what it called its “last, best, and final” offer to the Chicago Teachers Union on a safe school reopening plan.
With a potential teachers strike looming, the two sides are continuing negotiations over how to safely bring students, educators and staff into school buildings. CPS late Friday said it will lock out pre-kindergarten and special education cluster program teachers from their remote education suites if they don’t show up for work Monday, potentially triggering a strike.
“We have the power to make sure this virus does not further disrupt the growth and progress of all our students,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrote in a letter to CPS staffers. “We hope a resolution is near, and we thank you for your patience and support.”
Teachers last month approved a resolution stating that if they are locked out, the union could go on strike. CPS is not currently requiring K-8 educators — who were expected back in their classrooms last month — to return Monday.
Remote learning continued this week for some 67,000 Chicago Public Schools students that had been expected to attend in-person this week as the district extended a “cooling off” period with the union that began Monday.
Agreements between the sides have been made on safety protocols, ventilation, testing for COVID-19, contact tracing and a joint safety committee. But the union is pushing for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-based health metric for closing schools in the event of an outbreak, accommodations for educators with medically vulnerable family members and addressing “real equity needs.”
CTU President Jesse Sharkey accused Lightfoot of cutting off negotiations by issuing a “final offer.” He said the union is “deeply disappointed” by that decision.
“Our stance hasn't changed,” he said Friday. “We are willing to work and we are willing to negotiate the safest agreement for our students, their families and all stakeholders in our school communities."
In that “last best and final offer,” provided by a source to WTTW News, CPS would shut down in-person learning if 50% of schools have COVID-19 outbreaks, which are defined as three or more positive cases found at a school within a 14-day period.
That decision could also come if the district’s rolling seven-day positivity rate among staff and students reaches 2.5%. At that point, a COVID-19 safety committee would convene and decide on a recommendation to either enhance mitigations further or shut down schools in specific city regions or across the district.
CPS has tentatively agreed to test all symptomatic students and staff, as well as all in-person employees at the 134 schools in high COVID-19 case count neighborhoods on a weekly basis. Half of in-person employees in all other neighborhoods would also be tested weekly.
CPS is also increasing the number of accommodations provided to school employees allowing them to continue working remotely. But the union says CPS is still denying those accommodations to 75% of educators with household members at high risk for COVID-19.
Under the latest offer, pre-kindergarten and special education cluster programs students and staff would resume in-person learning Monday. CPS on Friday evening pushed that back to Tuesday.
Kindergarten through fifth grade teachers and employees would report on Feb. 15, with students in those grades returning Feb. 22.
Teachers in grades 6-8 would also report back on Feb. 22, followed by those students on March 1.
CPS in its offer said it will provide vaccines to no fewer than 1,500 employees per week, but under that timetable, the union said some teachers could be waiting until June for vaccinations through the district.
In a letter accompanying their latest offer, the city’s bargaining team said it needed to hear a response from the CTU by no later than 5 p.m. Friday. By 3 p.m., Lightfoot and Jackson said they had not yet heard back.
“The ball,” they said in a statement, “is in their court.”