CPS Cancels Classes Thursday as Negotiations With Teachers Continue

Video: Chicago Teachers Union vice president Stacy Davis Gates joins “Chicago Tonight” with more on the stalemate between CPS and CTU. (Produced by Leslie Hurtado)

Chicago Public Schools students will stay at home for a second consecutive day Thursday, as the district has once again canceled classes after the Chicago Teachers Union voted to begin working remotely.

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In a press conference at City Hall Tuesday evening, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said the city has not yet reached an agreement with teachers, who are refusing to enter school buildings amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in the city.

“We’re not gonna stop negotiating with the CTU, (but) we still believe the right approach is not a districtwide hammer,” Martinez said Wednesday evening.

All after-school activities, athletics and extracurriculars are once again canceled and there will be no remote learning options Thursday.

The union announced late Tuesday night that 73% of its members who voted did so in favor of the remote-work-only job action. While the CTU insists they are willing to work, albeit remotely, and says the action is not a strike.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, however, repeatedly referred to the move as an “illegal work stoppage.” Several CTU members have reported being locked out of their remote learning programs by the school district Wednesday and those teachers who did not show up in-person were placed into a no-pay status.

Union officials, who say CPS isn’t doing enough to protect students or school employees, have asked the district to increase regular testing, provide masks to all students and staff, provide a “major increase” in vaccinations at schools and require those who’ve had COVID-19 to get a negative test before returning to school.

They acknowledge that in-person learning is a better choice for students, but feel it’s not currently safe to hold classes in schools until additional mitigations are in place.

“The only thing that we get control (over) is whether we go into the buildings,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said during a press conference Wednesday morning. “If you want to get us into the schools quicker, provide testing, you know, do what D.C. has done, do what New York has done, do what Los Angeles has done, do what Cleveland has done, do what the private school the mayor sends her own child to. Provide a test so people are negative when they come back into the school and then set up a meaningful screening program.”

The union also sought a two-week operational pause until after Martin Luther King Day, but said that proposal has been rejected.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez unveiled a new offer to the union Tuesday afternoon that would set rules for each school to transition to remote learning based on the number of teachers and students out sick with COVID-19. That proposal also offers increased contact tracing capability, approximately 200,000 KN95 masks for staff and reinstituting health screeners and temperature checks at schools.

But Martinez has been resistant to calls for a return to remote learning districtwide, citing concerns over student learning loss, the potential for more COVID-19 spread and other negative effects. He’s also worried the CTU could push to stay learning remotely for an extended period.

“There is not a trust level, there is so much misinformation,” he said Tuesday evening. “So how can I guarantee parents that this is a pause and not something much longer, that there isn’t another agenda behind it? That’s our biggest question.”

Among the other items at issue, CTU wants an opt-out testing system, Lightfoot said at a press conference Wednesday evening. That means unless parents confirm they do not want their kids tested, CPS would be conducting what the mayor called a “quasi-medical procedure” on students without their parents’ consent.

Lightfoot flatly refused such a strategy, calling it “morally wrong” and “repugnant,” adding that it could open up the district to potential liability of “untold proportions.”

This marks the second January in a row where the CTU and the city have sparred over COVID-19 protocols and in-person learning. Last year’s issues nearly led to a teachers strike before the sides eventually agreed to a deal in February.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “We are standing firm and we are going to fight to get our kids back and into in-person learning.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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