Video: Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey joins “Chicago Tonight” in discussion. (Produced by Quinn Myers)
Chicago high school teachers won’t report for in-person work Wednesday unless there’s “adequate movement” toward a reopening agreement between their representatives and Chicago Public Schools leadership.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates on Sunday evening voted to keep high school staffers out of schools beginning Wednesday as the union continues negotiating with CPS over how to safely reopen those schools.
“Our rank-and-file members told the leadership of the CTU in no uncertain terms that we’re not simply reopening schools without more progress at the bargaining table and without a return agreement in high school,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Monday morning. “What that means is it that on Wednesday, high school teachers will not be going into the buildings without that agreement.”
While elementary school students and some special education students have returned to their classrooms this year, high schoolers have continued learning remotely since last spring when COVID-19 forced a districtwide suspension of in-person learning.
CPS has set April 19 as its target date for high school students to return for in-person learning and district leaders have said it’s their “top priority” to get these kids back into their classrooms. High school teachers are set to report Monday. But if a reopening agreement isn’t close by Wednesday, those teachers will either work outside of their school buildings or from home on Wednesday.
On Monday afternoon, CPS announced that 3,640 out of approximately 4,300 high school teachers who were expected to resume in-person work Monday had shown up. That’s a little over 84%.
Both union and CPS leaders had expressed hope that this round of negotiations would go more smoothly than the elementary school reopening discussion, which nearly led to a teachers strike earlier this year.
Bargaining continued over the weekend, but according to the CTU, issues remain over accommodations to let teachers work remotely, student schedules, remote work and vaccine availability for students and their families.
Union leaders asked CPS last week to push back that April 19 return date by one week to allow for more time to learn about coronavirus variants and current transmission rates. District leadership rejected that request and pointed to their elementary schools, which they said “have shown that safe in-person learning is possible right now.”
Sharkey said the vote Sunday was the only authorization needed for Wednesday’s potential action. He said the union may schedule another meeting later this week in order “to evaluate where we’re at with bargaining” and discuss potential next steps.
If CPS threatens to lock teachers out of their Google education suites — effectively preventing them from teaching remotely — that could lead to “more consequences,” Sharkey said.
CPS spokesman Michael Passman said the district had “productive discussions” over the weekend with the CTU, and the two sides have a “general alignment” on scheduling and safety protocols to keep students and employees healthy.
“Tens of thousands of high school students and their families are counting on us to open high school classrooms in one week, and we are firmly committed to making that happen,” Passman said in a statement Monday. “We hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition for our high school students and families.”