Video: As union delegates review the framework of a deal with CPS on Monday, Brandis Friedman has this overview of weekend developments in the negotiation process. Read the latest news here.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are reviewing the framework of a deal that would allow in-person learning to resume at Chicago Public Schools for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020 — and avert the second strike in 15 months.
While Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced there was a tentative agreement to resolve the monthslong dispute between the school district and teachers union, a tentative agreement must be approved by union delegates, who were reviewing the framework Sunday after negotiations lasted until 11 p.m. Saturday.
Lightfoot called the agreement “very good news” for the approximately 70,000 preschool and elementary school students who have told district officials they want to return to classrooms for two or three days a week.
“We can now see light at the end of this long, dark tunnel that we have been in since COVID-19 first came to our shores,” Lightfoot said. “That light grows bigger and brighter every day.”
Lightfoot praised Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey for helping to resolve the “very public dispute” between the union and the city, which she said had been hardest on Chicago parents.
However, it is still possible for the union’s House of Delegates and rank-and-file members to reject the deal, sending the two sides back to the bargaining table. A final vote by union delegates is likely to happen on Monday, sources said.
Negotiations have been deadlocked since elementary teachers refused to report to schools Jan. 25 in anticipation that 70,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade would return to classes Monday.
The framework’s timeline calls for students in preschool and special education classes to return to classes Thursday, with kindergarten through fifth grade teachers and staff set to return on Feb. 22 followed by their students on March 1.
Sixth through eighth grade teachers and staff would return March 1 followed by students on March 8, according to the framework.
Parents will be able to register their students to attend class in-person starting April 19, when the fourth quarter begins, said CPS CEO Janice Jackson. Spring break is unlikely to be canceled, Lightfoot said.
Discussions will start in earnest in the coming weeks with union leaders to allow Chicago high schools to reopen for in-person learning, Jackson said.
The framework includes no changes to the district’s guidelines for in-person learning.
“The focus has to be on a return to in-person learning,” Jackson said.
The framework also revises the metrics that would require a return to full remote learning citywide, for individual schools and specific classes.
In-person learning would be suspended for 14 days if the city’s COVID-19 test positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average, increases for seven consecutive days, if the rate for each of the seven consecutive days is at least 15% higher than the rate one week prior and if the rate on the seventh day is 10% or greater, according to the framework.
That is in line with demands made by union negotiators, while city officials pushed to have just school-specific metrics in place. Individual classes will return to remote learning with one or more positive cases, while schools will return to remote learning with three or more confirmed cases at a school within a 14-day period, according to the framework.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the metrics were designed to stop in-person learning if the city experiences another surge in COVID-19 cases with rules “developed specifically for CPS.”
Even though a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 that has been identified in Chicago is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, according to a new study, Arwady said schools remain safe for in-person learning — as long as students and teachers wear masks, stay 6 feet apart from one another and wash their hands.
The two sides were also split on how fast to vaccinate teachers and staff members. The framework’s staggered approach to resuming in-person learning is designed to offer the vaccine to teachers before they return to their classrooms, meeting a key union demand, officials said.
The Chicago Department of Public Health agreed to provide at least 1,500 vaccine doses per week to school employees. Those who live or work in 15 Chicago neighborhoods considered by the city to be hardest hit by the pandemic will be prioritized for the vaccine, according to the framework.
In addition, union members at the highest risk of severe COVID-19 infections because of their age, race or ethnicity — as well as those who agree to return to classrooms — will be prioritized, according to the framework.
Doses of the vaccine will also be reserved for teachers and staff who live with people at a severe risk of COVID-19 and “grant telework accommodations to the extent operationally feasible,” according to the framework. That was also a key demand by union negotiators.
In advance of school district officials threatening late Friday to lock out pre-kindergarten and special education cluster program teachers from their remote education suites, potentially triggering a strike, agreements were reached on safety protocols, ventilation, testing for COVID-19, contact tracing and a joint safety committee.
In that “last best and final offer,” provided by a source to WTTW News on Friday afternoon, 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.
Lightfoot told reporters Sunday that the framework agreed to by both sides was “pretty much the same” as the city’s final offer, except with changes “around the margins.”
In addition, school district officials agreed to test all symptomatic students and staff, as well as all in-person employees at the 134 schools in neighborhoods with high COVID-19 case counts on a weekly basis. Half of in-person employees in all other neighborhoods would also be tested weekly, according to the framework.